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U.S. Department of Justice opens a statewide investigation into Kentucky’s youth detention centers

Department of Juvenile Justice

The investigation will examine conditions in eight youth detention centers - used to temporarily hold children awaiting a court hearing - and one youth development center.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Commissioner Kristen Clarke said the DOJ will review whether conditions within these facilities are unconstitutional, and will investigate "use of physical and chemical force by staff, inappropriate use of isolation, failure to protect children from physical and sexual abuse, and adequate mental healthcare."

Clarke said, unlike the adult justice system, the juvenile justice system does not seek to punish children for breaking the law.

"Rather, its goal is rehabilitation," said Clarke. "Confinement should help children avoid future contact with law enforcement and mature into law abiding, productive members of society. But, too often, juvenile justice facilities break our children, exposing them to dangerous and traumatic conditions."

The federal investigation comes six months after the release of an independent statewide audit which found the state’s juvenile detention centers used excessive isolation and excessive force - including the use of pepper spray at higher rates than are seen in federal prisons housing adults.

The Beshear-Coleman Administration released a statement in response to the DOJ announcement outlining steps taken to comply with state statutes and reform the Department of Juvenile Justice. Governor Andy Beshear said the past four years have seen the “most extensive reforms to the Department of Juvenile Justice since its inception,” including “separating males and females into different facilities, separating those accused of significant crimes from status and lower-level offenders”, and hiring “more psychologists, social workers, and security experts”.