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DOJ Investigation Reveals Excessive Force Was Used at NY Juvenile Prisons

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A recent investigation by the United States Department of Justice revealed that prison staff at New York juvenile prisons used excessive physical force to discipline children. In fact, the investigation found that the physical violence resulted in shattered teeth, concussions and other serious injuries in the youth prisoners.

The U.S. DOJ issued its report 18 months into the investigation. Specifically, the DOJ investigated four juvenile residential centers and found that physical force was the first response to any act of insubordination by residents—all of whom are under the age of 16.
The findings propelled the DOJ to issue a statement that the federal government will take over the juvenile prison system if the problems with excessive physical force are not remedied in a timely manner.

The commissioner of New York’s Children and Family Services office, which oversees the juvenile prison system, issued a statement after the report’s release. She stated that the administration had inherited a system “rife with substantial systemic problems”, but did admit that the department’s efforts to address problems with excessive physical force had fallen short.

The investigation also revealed that officials at the centers—the Lansing Residential Center, the Louis Gossett Jr. Residential Center and the Tryon Residential Center—had routinely failed to follow state rules requiring reviews whenever physical force is used. Furthermore, even when reviews were performed and found that excessive force had been used, staff members hardly ever faced punishment. In fact, the staff members responsible for the physical force often performed the reviews for themselves.

Several cases indicate the amount of physical force employed at the residential centers. For example, in November 2006, an emotionally disturbed teenager, Darryl Thompson, who was only 15 at the time, died after two employees at the Tryon center pinned him down to the ground. His death was ruled a homicide, but the grand jury did not indict the workers. His mother is now suing the state of New York. Moreover, in another incident, a boy was restrained with his arms behind his back after glaring at a staff member. His arms were pinned so violently, that his collarbone was broken. These are just two of several cases that the DOJ discovered in their investigation.

The DOJ has recommended a plan of action for the state’s problematic juvenile centers. New York has 49 days to respond with a plan of action to comply with the report’s recommendations. If the state fails to respond, the DOJ can initiate a lawsuit to force a federal takeover of the state’s juvenile prison system.