Children in jail: report leaves children's voices unheard/Amnesty

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 28 Nov 1998 21:54:01 -0400


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http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news/press/releases/25_november_1998-0.shtml

25 November 1998

USA - Maine Youth Centre report leaves children's voices still unheard

The American Correctional Association (ACA) recently completed review
of Maine Youth Center's treatment of children in its care leaves much
to be desired, Amnesty International said today.

The organisation added that, on the basis of its research into the
Center, the review is deficient in two crucial respects. First, it was
confined to an examination of the use of restraints and solitary
confinement and was therefore unable to look in detail at other issues
-- such as the adequacy of services for children with mental health
problems -- some of which are directly related to the high incidence
of the use of restraints and solitary confinement by the Center.

Secondly, the report does not provide a thorough, detailed account of
the matters the review was commissioned to examine and does not give
details of the methodology of the review, which was conducted in only
three days.

"The report hints at recent violations of residents' rights, but it
fails to bring them out into the open, or to condemn them. Where are
the searching questions about reports of a child isolated for over a
year, or the use of a eerestraint chair' for up to 17 hours at a
time?", the organisation continued. "Where are the voices of the
children themselves and their thoughts on how they have been
treated?"

Although the ACA consultant who conducted the review says that he
spoke to some children, their views are mentioned only once in
passing and no reference is made to their view of how they are
treated.

"This review falls well short of the kind of inquiry that is needed
to deal with the various concerns about the Center we and others have
been voicing for some time," Amnesty International said. "We
therefore continue to urge the Governor to initiate a comprehensive
and thorough inquiry into all aspects of the operations of the Maine
Youth Center."

Outline of Amnesty International's concerns on the ACA review:

Amnesty International and others have expressed concern about the use
of solitary confinement at the Center. The ACA report contains only a
single, short paragraph with no information at all about the
practices of the Center. The report says that children "may" be
housed in the isolation unit for several hours to several days, but
does not specify for how long children have actually been kept in
solitary confinement and does not even mention the youth who was
reportedly confined for longer than a year. Amnesty International's
request for information about the use of solitary confinement --
addressed in August to Corrections Commissioner Magnusson -- is still
unanswered.

The ACA report states that the Center's policies and procedures on
the use of isolation "appear adequate", implying that they are
consistent with ACA standards. But there is no evidence they were
applied in practice. For example, ACA standards require that there
should be disciplinary hearings for children alleged to have violated
rules, and that children in solitary confinement should have access
to programs such as education. Amnesty International has received
information from various sources that the Center did not comply with
these requirements.

The ACA review was requested to examine what happens in practice but
the report does not explicitly deal with the current situation.
However, a paragraph in the report calls for a hearing process for
appeals and grievances that "should clearly give consideration to all
sides of the story" and that uses hearing officers "who have earned
the respect of staff and youth, and perceived as being fair (sic)."
This looks like a diplomatically couched critique of the deficiencies
of current practices, but the subject has not been discussed in detail
nor dealt with in an express recommendation.

Although it was asked to examine the use of all forms of restraint,
the ACA refers only to the use of the restraint chair. Other
practices -- such as the plastic straps that a number of children
have complained were applied so tightly that their hands became
discoloured and numb-- have been ignored.

With respect to the use of the restraint chair, the report states
that "in some cases" it appears to have been used inappropriately.
The report, however, does not mention the serious concerns raised in
March 1998 by the Maine Youth Center Advocate, Eve Richardson, which
included residents being "often" kept in the chair for lengthy
periods despite being calm and compliant, in breach of Maine and ACA
standards. The many instances documented by Ms Richardson -- such as
one youth held in the chair for 17 hours -- are difficult to
reconcile with the ACA consultant's conclusion that the Center's use
of the restraint chair is "humane".

The ACA consultant notes that the facility's Board of Visitors "seem
to have become increasingly active as adverse publicity surrounding
the facility has surfaced and continued." He suggests that members
should be appointed for four years rather than the current one year
term, but does not examine whether the Board's duties, powers and
resources are adequate to enable it to be a truly effective and
independent watchdog.

He also suggests that facilities like the Maine Youth Center should
have a staff- resident ratio of 1:8 to 1:12, in contrast to the
current ratio of 1:40. He notes that implementation of current plans
will reduce the number of residents at the Center and urges "strong
consideration" of the employment of more unit supervisors, without
making a specific recommendation about appropriate staffing ratios.
Instead, he endorses implementation of the current "master plan".
However, this will not achieve the desired staffing ratio and after
the report was released the Superintendent of the Center has
reportedly ruled out the employment of more staff.

Finally, the consultant suggests that a plan should be developed to
provide for an individualised assessment of every student upon
admission, and that this should be regularly reviewed and adjusted,
but makes no recommendation to incorporate this important proposal.

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