Juvenile justice facilities across the nation are in a dangerously advanced state of disarray, with violence an almost everyday occurrence and rehabilitation the exception rather than the rule, says U.S. News & World Report. Abuse of inmates by staff is routine. At the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore, staffers used force on juveniles 550 times between July 2002 and December 2003. At the Nevada Youth Training Center, staffers repeatedly punched boys in the chest, kicked their legs, and shoved them against walls. In Mississippi, suicidal girls at the Columbia Training School were stripped naked and placed in the “dark room,” a locked, windowless isolation cell with no light and only a drain in the floor for a toilet; other kids were hogtied and pole-shackled and put on public display for hours. Girls were forced to eat their own vomit. Several states have had a disturbing spate of suicides among incarcerated kids.
“Almost every place is experiencing major problems,” says criminologist Barry Krisberg, author of a recent report on the California Youth Authority. “There are cycles of abuse, reform, and abuse, and we are in a cycle of abuse.” The U.S. Department of Justice is attacking abuses in juvenile facilities in an aggressive way. The feds have active investigations or are monitoring settled cases in juvenile justice systems in 13 states or territories, including California, Georgia, Michigan, Virginia, and New Jersey. More cases are on the horizon. “We have a full-court press on this,” says R. Alexander Acosta, assistant attorney general for civil rights. Under a 1980 law, his attorneys have the power to investigate and sue to correct a pattern or practice of unlawful conditions at juvenile facilities. The flurry of suits began in the Clinton administration; John Ashcroft’s Justice Department has more than kept up the pace, doubling the number of new investigations. “No one deserves to be treated this way,” says Brad Schlozman of the Civil Rights Division.