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Justice Department launches investigation into KY youth detention centers

A concept image of an eerie corridor in a prison at night showing jail cells dimly illuminated by various ominous lights
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A concept image of an eerie corridor in a prison at night showing jail cells dimly illuminated by various ominous lights

The U.S. Justice Department is launching an investigation into reports of physical and sexual abuse at Kentucky's eight youth detention centers - along with inappropriate use of isolation, and lack of access to adequate mental health care, and services for children with disabilities.

U.S. Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke said the investigation will be independent and thorough.

"We're committed," said Clarke, "to ensuring that children in juvenile detention facilities are not subjected to abuse, or mistreatment, or deprived of their constitutional rights."

A federal lawsuit filed earlier this year alleged two teenage girls were kept isolated without access to a toilet, in unsanitary conditions.

Terry Brooks, Ph.D., executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said a decade ago, the General Assembly passed sweeping juvenile justice reforms. But since then, the situation in detention centers has steadily worsened into a full-blown crisis that state leaders have largely ignored.

"If the Beshear administration and if the General Assembly and stepped up on this issue," said Brooks, "we would not have Washington D.C. coming into the Commonwealth to fix this."

Brooks added he is hopeful the DOJ investigation will lead to safe, positive, accountable rehabilitation for Kentucky kids that help them get back on the right track in life.

"They have obviously done deep dives and inquiries into the state of detention centers in Kentucky," said Brooks. "And my optimistic view of this is they are going to give Kentucky a roadmap to move ahead."

Nationally, according to the Justice Department, detention centers admit nearly 200,000 children every year - holding around 16,000 youth on any given night.

Nadia Ramlagan covers the Southeastern and Appalachian region for Public News Service (Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee), and co-produces 2022Talks, a national newscast tracking U.S. politics and elections.
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