Gov. Andy Beshear is expected to announce steps Thursday to improve conditions at the state’s juvenile detention centers and improve safety for staff.
The Community Voice contacted Morgan Hall, communications director for the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, after receiving documents concerning the care of a juvenile with mental health issues who was housed this past summer in the Adair Youth Development Center.
Hall responded to specific questions, but first noted that more than half of the youth at the Adair facility have committed a serious or violent offense such as murder, robbery, 1st degree, or sexual abuse. She does not specify what the other youth are there for.
Beshear announced last week that male juveniles will soon be housed based on their offenses and related to potential for violent, disruptive behavior. Males 14 years old or older who have been charged with a serious or violent offense will be placed in a high security facility. Adair County is a level 5 maximum security facility, the highest level of security in state juvenile centers.
The governor already announced that a female-only facility is being opened in Campbell County. That announcement comes after the Nov. 11 riot in Adair County where a female juvenile was reportedly raped by multiple male juveniles. DJJ reports that females are kept in separate areas from males but several staff members have told the Community Voice that females are housed in cells within a pod of other cells that house males.
Beshear is expected to announce changes during his weekly Team Kentucky update.
Officials Say Court Must Order Detention
In response to a question about youth being in juvenile detention centers who have not committed a crime, Hall said only youth who have been charged with a crime and ordered by a judge can be housed in the facilities.
“DJJ cannot house youth without proper paperwork from a court designated worker and/or judge,” she said. “DJJ cannot refuse to accept a youth who has been ordered by a judge into detention but has a mental health issue.”
The Adair facility is considered two types of facilities, with the Youth Development Center housing juveniles who have been convicted of a crime. The detention center provides pre-trial detention for juveniles charged with an offense.
In regards to delayed action concerning an allegation of assault by two youth workers, Hall states that the Internal Investigations Branch of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet did investigate the case. She does not address the allegation that it lingered until Sen. Max Wise’s office became involved.
She notes that DJJ has other layers of protection available for youth. Any time youth or staff need to report wrongdoing they may contact the department’s ombudsman or the Department of Public Advocacy. All DJJ facilities are monitored 24/7 by video surveillance, which is randomly accessed by headquarters, leadership and superintendents. In addition, ACA auditors and PREA auditors provide assessments and talk with youth and staff. Recently, DJJ created a compliance branch to conduct random staff interviews and unannounced facility inspections.
By Sharon Burton