RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Spurred to investigate reports that juvenile immigrants face systemic abuses at a jail in southwestern Virginia, state officials largely cleared the federally run detention center of wrongdoing.
Published Monday by Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, the 15-page report says the 2017 class action that inspired the probe raised concerning but ultimately unsupported claims of mistreatment.
Led by an anonymous Mexican national identified only as John Doe, the complaint describes “brutal, inhumane conditions” at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center. Shenandoah is one of just three detention camps where the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a federal agency, houses detained juveniles.
The other juvenile jails are located in California and northern Virginia.
Though abuse allegations from all three facilities are detailed in an unrelated memorandum filed this past April with a federal judge in California, Moran’s report says the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice found “no life, health, or safety concerns for the residents at” Shenandoah.
Doe’s 2017 complaint describes children being held in shackles, but Virginia’s investigation found that Shenandoah “uses approved restraints pursuant to the Regulations Governing Juvenile Secure Detention Centers,” according to the report.
When restraints were used moreover, Moran found, they were not intended for punishment but rather for “the protection of resident and staff.”
Moran also noted that a review of training records showed staff was taught to use a “Handle With Care” behavioral-management system.
Other notable sections of the report include at least three examples of “gang activity” within four of the housing units toured by state investigators. Auditors said they found two “drawings of the devil horn hand sign used by MS-13,” as well as the name “MS-13” etched in the window of a resident’s door.
“Overall, the housing units were very clean and free from graffiti,” the report states.
Moran still found space at the end of the report, however, to offer tips on how the federal government might improve quality of life for detainees.
“SVJC could strengthen its programming for this uniquely challenging group of youth — young people who have been frequently exposed to high levels of trauma, who are separated from their families, and who confront numerous language and cultural barriers, among others, to succeeding in SVJC and upon their release,” the report states.
With arrests by Immigrations and Customs enforcement having spiked under the Trump administration, so too have reports of abuse.
The 2017 complaint against Shenandoah was filed by the Washington law firm Wiley Rein and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
In California meanwhile, attorneys at the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, the National Center for Youth Law and the School of Law at the University of California, Davis, says that the conditions to which detained juveniles are subjected at all three of the juvenile jails violate a settlement that the federal government reached in 1997 with a juvenile immigrant named Jenny Lisette Flores.
The Trump administration has brought its own challenge of the Flores agreement, namely the provision that requires the government to decide between 5 and 20 days if it will either release juvenile detainees to relatives or other custodians, or place them in facilities.
Last month in Los Angeles U.S District Judge Dolly Gee said the Trump administration made an “unconvincing” argument that the Flores settlement had caused illegal border crossings to surge.
Representatives for the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law have not returned emails seeking comment.