Children in New York’s State Juvenile Prison Centers Deserve Better

Children at four juvenile detention centers in New York were so severely abused by workers that it constituted a violation of their constitutional rights, according to a report by the United States Department of Justice made public on Monday.

This is absolutely ludicrous. These children deserve better.

By way of background, in New York, if a child under the age of eighteen commits a crime, or has become so unruly that his parents or guardians cannot control him, the local Department of Social Services (each County in New York has their own i.e. Westchester DSS) takes custody over him or her.

This is done pursuant to a Person In Need of Supervision or PINS petition. A family Court judge signs off on the application and then the local DSS transfers the child to a residential facility that specializes in juvenile detention. The thinking is that the facility is specially equipped to handle these wayward kids. Unfortunately, that theory breaks down once the kid enters the institution.

First, these facilities operate on shoestring budgets. The buildings are always run down and decrepit. And, they have no money to hire any professionals to care for the kids. Instead, they hire aids to watch over the kids. These aids barely make minimum wage. They are often not college educated and they are afforded limited training. Further, they are forced to watch over kids that couldn’t even be supervised by their own parents. Taken together, this makes for an explosive situation.

The kids are generally housed in “cottages” where about 7 or 8 of them live together. These cottages are sometimes “self-contained” in that the kids stay there all the time. They even take their classes there. The Cottage is usually run by a social worker or head psychologist, who may have a masters degree or possibly a college education. He then has several aids who help supervise the kids. The aids work in shifts, some work during the day, some work during the evening, and some work over the night.

When things get bad, the aids are allowed to perform a “restraint” on the kids. This means that the child is subdued if he poses a risk of harm to himself or others. This is supposed to be well-documented. The problem is that sometimes these aids use the restraint technique as a form of corporal punishment instead of when the child poses a danger.

Further complicating the matter is the fact that when a child is inappropriately restrained, the child may have no avenues to seek help. After all, he is a child with a criminal background, or at least a the subject of a PINS petition. Thus, who will ever believe him? And it is so easy for an Aide to say that the kid was acting out. The kids often come from broken families and of limited resources, which is a further roadblock from obtaining justice.

The local DSS is supposed to be following up with their own kids but, of course, they are over worked and ill prepared to handle that type of thing.

In short, the system sucks and our kids deserve better.

Post Script:

From what I see on the web and recent articles, the main culprits are the following:

1.  Lansing Residential Center, Lansing, N.Y.;
2.  Louis Gossett Jr. Residential Center, Lansing, N.Y.,
3.  Tyon Residential Centers (boys and girls), Johnstown, N.Y.

I know that there are other facilities that have juvenile facilities:
1.  Berkshire Farms Center Services for Youth;
Click here for a full list

In light of the recent news reports highlighting the abuses that are rampant at these juvenile centers, we anticipate an onslaught of personal injury lawsuits, which will be based upon the following claims:

1.  negligence,

2. medical malpractice (failing to give children proper mental health care),

3. assualt/battery

4.  negligent/intentional infliction of emotional distress

4. constitutional torts (42 USCA 1983) (these are claims that are used against govt agencies or agencies sponsored by the state like a juvenile detention center — they allow a litigant to sue in federal court, permit punitive damages claims and they allow the plaintiff to sue for attorneys fees, which would mean that the plaintiff does not have to pay his personal injury attorney a contingency fee — these claims, if successful, can really impact the operation of these facilities and thus are a great tool in terms of making these places better and safer for the kids.

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