Alabama Jail Target |of Justice Investigation

     (CN) – An Alabama jail will be the subject of an investigation into how it treats juvenile inmates and whether conditions there “pose a serious risk of harm to their physical and psychological well-being,” the U.S. Justice Department announced.
     The inquiry into the Jefferson County Jail in Birmingham, Ala. announced Wednesday was prompted by allegations of juvenile mistreatment at the jail that included sexual abuse, isolation and lack of access to appropriate jail resources.
     “The department has received allegations that juveniles at the jail are regularly housed with adult detainees, have been victims of sexual abuse and have been approached by adult detainees for sexual activity and favors,” the agency said in a written statement.
     “Additionally, juveniles, including those with diagnosed mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities, allegedly are routinely placed in solitary confinement or lockdown-sometimes for months at a time-with little or no access to the law library, telephone, commissary, educational opportunities and other services.”
     According to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the department’s Civil Rights Division, solitary confinement can be especially damaging to juveniles.
     “Isolation-particularly the prolonged and restrictive lockdown alleged in Jefferson County-can lead to paranoia, anxiety, depression and suicide, and exacerbate pre-existing psychological harms,” he said.
     U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance of the Northern District of Alabama said the department is committed to finding solutions to Alabama’s jail problems.
     “Where possible, the best solution is always a collaborative approach that encourages the state and counties to correct conditions that are constitutionally inadequate. However, we have not hesitated to file suit where necessary,” she said.
     after being informed of the investigation, Chief Deputy Randy Christian with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement of their own on Wednesday.
     “The only juvenile inmates we house have committed crimes so violent or heinous that the laws of the State of Alabama require they be charged as adults,” Christian said. “If they would rob, rape or murder you, I would likely assume they would also like to try and make it out of adult jail. It isn’t a place for the faint of heart but it is a place they are treated fairly. We certainly have no heartburn over proving that in court should we need to.”
     The investigation is being conducted by the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division. According to the DOJ, the department is authorized to conduct the investigation under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
     The Justice Department previously investigated the state’s Julia Tutwiler Prison, where it found a history of sexual abuse and harassment. It announced an agreement with the state last week, creating protective policies for inmates at the prison.

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