Four New York Juvenile Detention Centers Use Excessive Force and Restraints, Concludes U.S. Department of Justice
A report of the Civil Rights Division of the Civil Rights Divisions investigation of conditions at four Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) facilities found conditions violate constitutional standards in the areas of protection from harm and mental health care. The investigation revealed that: 1) staff resort quickly to a high degree of force that is disproportionate to the level of the youths infraction; and 2) the technique employed to restrain a youth results in an excessive number of injuries, including concussions, broken or knocked-out teeth, and spiral fractures. There was even one death. In November 2006, a 15-year-old resident at Tryon Boys died following a prone restraint. The youth allegedly pushed a staff member and was then pinned facedown on the floor and handcuffed by two staff. The youth stopped breathing only minutes later, and then died at a nearby hospital. His death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. Despite this death, a dangerous combination of high rates of prone restraints and a low standard for initiating a restraint remains at the facilities. The facilities inspected were Lansing Residential Center (Lansing), Louis Gossett, Jr. Residential Center(Gossett), Tryon Residential Center (Tryon Boys), and Tryon Girls Residential Center (Tryon Girls). The report was released August 14, 2009. The report does not indicate whether any civil lawsuits for personal injuries have been brought. It wouldn't be surprising if they have been or will be. Given that the victims are youths, even with their records and the reasons they were placed into juvenile detention, they may make for sympathetic plaintiffs. Adult prisoners can also make for sympathetic witnesses. A Texas court, earlier this year,upheld $42.5 million in punitive damages against a private prison GEO Group Inc., formerly named Wackenhut, a multinational corrections corporation for the horrific and gruesome death of inmate Gregorio De La Rosa Jr. in 2001. The award is among the largest punitive damages ordered against a private prison company. De La Rosa was beaten to death by two other inmates using padlocks stuffed in socks while guards and supervisors looked on, according to trial testimony three years ago. When De La Rosa, an honorably discharged former National Guardsman, died, he had only four days left to serve on a six-month sentence for a minor drug offense. The investigation revealed that restraints are used frequently and result in a high number of injuries. For instance, in 2007 at Lansing, the total number of restraints was 698, an average of 58 restraints per month. One hundred and twenty-three Lansing residents were injured as a result of restraints that year. These injuries included bruises, concussions, knocked out teeth, and fractures. Some of the injuries suffered by girls at Lansing have been quite severe, including a left shoulder separation and a hairline fracture to her left arm from one incident, and a shoulder displacement in one incident and a spiral fracture to her left arm in another that another resident suffered. The number and severity of injuries resulting from restraints is made worse by poorly executed or intentionally harmful restraints. Many youth, particularly at the Tryon facilities, explained to us that a typical, unauthorized restraint technique is for staff to hook and trip; in other words, staff restrain a youths arms behind his or her back, then trip the youths legs so they fall to the floor face first. This clearly incorrect method of restraining youth may account for some of the bruising to the chin, forehead, and cheeks and broken teeth described in incident reports. At Gossett, the practice known as pin pushing refers to staff pushing the button on their radios any time youth exhibit resistance to following directions. When staff push the pin, it triggers a response team that rushes to the location of the incident and is supposed to de-escalate the situation. In actuality, in many of the incidents were viewed and observed during our tour, the teams actions actually intensified the tension to the point where a restraint was employed. For example, according to both staff and youth, a common behavior that frequently results in a pin push is when a youth is refusing to move. Reportedly, this includes a youths refusal to get out of bed in the morning. In addition, youth also frequently reported to us that staff often restrain a youths arms behind his or her back, then pull forcefully up on the youths arms, resulting in severe pain and discomfort in the shoulders and arms. The report also found that investigations into uses of force and restraints were inadequate and that, in many instances, OCFS failed to hold staff accountable for gross violations of OCFS policy on the use of force and restraints. There were failures to adequately investigate use of force incidents, to provide adequate mental health care and treatment, to provide adequate behavioral management, to properly evaluate and diagnose mental health problems, inappropriate medication practices, prescription and monitoring of medications, monitoring for side effects, and insufficient programming to address youths substance abuse issues. The Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution governs the standards for conditions of confinement of juvenile offenders who have not been convicted of a crime. Confinement of youth in conditions that amount to punishment, or in conditions that represent a substantial departure from generally accepted professional standards, violates the Due Process clause. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits imposing on incarcerated persons who have not been convicted of crimes conditions or practices not reasonably related to the legitimate governmental objectives of safety, order, and security.