Children kept in isolation for weeks, attorney testifies to lawmakers about youth detention facilities

Kentucky lawmakers heard testimony Thursday that the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice kept teens in isolation against their own policies.
Published: Oct. 12, 2023 at 8:00 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Kentucky lawmakers heard testimony Thursday that the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice kept teens in isolation against their own policies.

“We’re talking about days of isolation,” Brian Scott West of the Department of Public Advocacy said. “Days, weeks, 21 days of isolation.”

The testimony comes during a series of hearings before the state’s Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee about the disturbing allegations of abuse inside the youth detention centers.

A trial attorney going through DJJ’s own records found that at the Adair County facility, children who didn’t even misbehave were being placed in isolation.

“Even when there wasn’t a major rule violation, when children were just being brought in and had not had any behavior issues there, they were immediately placed in isolation for weeks and months,” Lauren Hunter testified.

There are policies to be followed before placing a child in isolation for more than four hours at a time. If the isolation is due to a behavioral issue, the child is supposed to receive a due process hearing within 24 hours. That’s something that was not occurring, Hunter said.

She also explained there are layers of approvals needed for an extended period of isolation longer than 24 hours. Those approvals were not being sought either.

The DJJ Commissioner Vickie Reed responded denying children were being placed in isolation since the terms is reserved for kids who have acted out. That is different, she said, than the lockdowns the children were placed in because of safety concerns.

“We don’t call that isolation, because isolation as we do call it is a behavioral,” Hunter said. “Somebody does something, he tries to punch somebody, somebody’s tearing up somebody, something.”

Reed was not questioned about the lack of approvals required, as Hunter testified when the case did involve a behavioral issue.

“Even when staffing appeared to be better, they were still remaining in their cells 24/7,” Hunter said. “It was not because of a major rule violation.”

Hunter added the cells at the Adair facility are unlike those inside an adult jail. They are solitary and would be locked up by themselves.

Hunter told legislators she expected DJJ to call the use of isolation by a different term, but that the information she gathered shows it for what it is.

“Kids are never out,” she said. “They occasionally get a shower, they occasionally get a phone call. They are not going to school, they are not getting any counseling. They are in their cell all the time.”

The Secretary for the Justice Cabinet, Kerry Harvey, declined to respond to Hunter’s presentation during the hearing, stating he had not been given the chance to review the allegations described.

Harvey stated he wants to meet with members of the Department of Public Advocacy to find solutions.