Youths injured in Adair County juvenile detention center riot – are state facilities becoming unsafe?

Columbia, KY–A juvenile prisoner jumped a guard, took their keys, and “released other juveniles from their cells” on Saturday, according to a Kentucky State Police statement.

Several juvenile prisoners were injured in what the KSP described as a “riot.” It was not immediately clear the exact nature of the juveniles’ injuries or if they would pursue legal action against the state-run facility.

…the Internal Investigations Branch of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet has opened an investigation. DJJ will conduct a thorough review to determine if applicable policies were followed and identify further actions that should be taken.

Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Morgan Hall

According to the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice, the facility is one of eight detention centers run by the state. It houses juveniles between the ages of 11 and 18.

According to a Herald-Leader report, It’s not the first time staff negligence has led to a juvenile being injured on the property recently. In September, a youth was injured after two facility residents grabbed a staff member’s keys and used them to access the unit across the hall, where they attacked the fellow juvenile. It is unknown if any civil action is pending against the state-run facility in that case.

According to the Lexington Herad-Leader, the Department of Juvenile Justice has struggled with inadequate staffing and repeated loss of control at its detention centers for youths around the state.

In August, there was what DJJ officials described in internal documents as “a major riot” at the Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Bowling Green. A group of up to 10 youths caused “a significant amount of damage to the facility” during a rampage. The youths climbed into the facility’s ceilings for much of that episode. “The majority of the units are flooded and most ceiling tiles destroyed,” Bryan Bacon, a DJJ facility regional administrator, wrote to his superiors hours after the Warren incident. “Likely the majority if not all of the youth (were) involved in the ceiling incident.”

Also that month, one teen set fires in the Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center near Louisville and another used the confusion as his opportunity to escape, prompting a police response to the facility. Internal documents show the Jefferson facility was badly under-staffed, with 13 front-line workers on the payroll instead of the 29 considered necessary for safety. Stronger cell doors have been ordered for the facility to prevent youths from “kicking through” them, documents show.

Last year, the Herald-Leader published a series of stories that disclosed serious incidents of physical abuse, inappropriate sexual contact and neglect inside the juvenile detention centers.

One youth worker who quit the Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center after more than two years inside the facility told the newspaper, “It just felt like it was getting more unsafe and more unsafe and more unsafe.”

Herald-Leader, 9/20/2022, John Cheeves