ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – New York State and its Office of Children and Family Services agreed to settle a federal complaint alleging civil rights violations at four juvenile detention centers The investigation of the Finger Lakes Residential Center, Lansing Residential Center, Tryon Residential Center for Boys and Tryon Girls Residential Center followed Gov. David Paterson’s creation of a Task Force on Transforming New York’s Juvenile Justice System.
Prosecutors saw a pattern of violations after four “on-site inspections of the facilities with experts in protection from harm, use of force and mental health care,” according to the 30-page settlement.
“Defendants have disregarded known or serious risks of harm to youths at the facilities, as detailed in the letter issued by Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King on August 14, 2009, describing the investigative findings of conditions at the facilities,” according to the complaint.
“As outlined in the findings letter, defendants have failed to take reasonable measures to prevent staff from inflicting serious harm on youths, despite the substantial risk that staff will inflict such harm and the multiple occasions on which staff in fact have inflicted such harm.”
Prosecutors say juveniles have been harmed by the defendants’ “inadequately assessing and administering to youths’ acute and chronic psychiatric conditions.”
Under the settlement agreement, which must be implemented within 23 months and subjected to regular compliance reviews, the detention centers must follow new protocol on restraints, emergency response and mental health.
Detention centers can use restraints on residents only after trying “all other appropriate pro-active, non-physical behavioral management techniques,” but not to punish, and only against juveniles who are trying to escape or pose a threat to another person or order at the facility, according to the settlement.
Face-down restraints cannot be used for more than 3 minutes, and the youths must be assessed by medical personnel within 4 hours of being subjected to such restraints.
The agreement bans the use of pepper spray and psychotropic mediations to subdue juveniles, and continues a ban against “hooking and tripping” and using chokeholds.
Facility administrators must conduct a weekly review of use-of-force reports and videotaped incidents involving use of force, under the settlement.
The detention centers agree to use neutral, trained third parties to investigate allegations of staff misconduct and cases where a youth withdraws an allegation.
Staff must receive training in conflict resolution and submit to regular evaluation.
Prosecutors also called for more foresight and discretion in emergency response, so that staff is no longer required to “push the pin,” a personal safety device, to call for assistance.
A nurse or other health care worker must investigate the cause of any injury sustained by a juvenile and document any sign of abuse.
The jails agreed to provide behavioral treatment programs, substance abuse treatment, transition planning for juveniles with mental health or addiction issues, and strategies to cope with mental health crises and needs. They must also set standards for administering psychotropic medications and not force youths take their prescribed medication if they refuse.
The settlement cannot be terminated until the detention centers are in compliance for 12 consecutive months.