Pepper spray in Ohio juvenile lockups unwarranted

Nov 30, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The pepper spraying of juvenile inmates in September broke numerous state rules and was without exception unwarranted, a court-appointed monitor concluded in a report. The state has argued a violent gang outbreak justified the spraying.

The analysis of several incidents in which gang members were pepper sprayed as they were transferred between units sheds more light on Ohio’s evolving youth prison system, which is both shrinking but also growing more violent as only serious offenders remain in state custody.

A member of a court-appointed monitoring team who reviewed 11 pepper spray cases found “not a single incident” where the use was justified, according to the 16-page report filed Monday in federal court in Columbus.

“None of the youth were armed; none were barricaded; none were physically violent; none were engaged in targeted aggressive movement toward staff; and none were engaged in striking, grabbing, pushing or punching of staff,” according to the report by team member Steve Martin.

Martin cited three cases where guards sprayed pepper spray into their hands, then swiped it on the faces of juveniles already being held down.

Applying pepper spray “in this fashion is extraordinarily dangerous and greatly increases the risk of asphyxia during a prone restraint,” the report said. Martin noted that “the ‘facial swipe’ tactic is unprecedented in my many years of experience reviewing and investigating hundreds of use of force incidents” involving pepper spray.

The monitoring team reviewed incidents in September in which the Department of Youth Services asked adult prison guards to help move youth identified as gang leaders. Seven youths from Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware and 12 from Circleville Correctional Facility were moved to a separate unit at the Scioto facility.

A Youth Services spokeswoman declined comment because the incident involves an ongoing lawsuit. But the state painted a dire picture in a Nov. 18 court filing justifying its use of the pepper spray.

In August and September, gang-related violence had exploded, with 11 large-scale incidents involving multiple youths. Teens were breaking out of their cells for fights, and numerous guards and juvenile inmates suffered injuries. By the end of September, 20 staff members were on leave due to injuries from assaults, the filing said.

Teens not involved in the violence were refusing to go to school or therapy sessions out of fear for their safety, according to the filing.

“The outright ban of pepper spray could make it impossible for DYS to restore order during extraordinary circumstances without resorting to more risky physical intervention techniques, making injury to youths and staff much more likely,” the state said, noting that no youth who was sprayed needed anything more than basic first aid afterward.

A court-ordered monitor continues to oversee Ohio’s attempts to make youth prisons safer following a 2004 lawsuit that alleged a culture of violence.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley ordered the state to ensure pepper spray is not used to quell disturbances in state youth detention facilities. He plans a hearing next month.

Marbley’s order also required the state to film forceful restraints of juveniles and to provide immediate explanations when outside guards are called in.

The monitoring team’s report said Youth Services failed several times to videotape pepper sprayings.

“Although ten of the eleven applications of … spray were planned uses of force, DYS personnel failed to properly record all but two of those incidents with handheld cameras,” the report said.

Read the rest here.

Activists wage late attempt to stop youth jail

Project in the works for five years. Some call it poor use of precious dollars.

By Julie Bykowicz
The Baltimore Sun
June 17, 2010

Activists have launched a last-minute attempt to halt construction of a $100 million jail for Baltimore teenagers facing adult charges, saying the state needs to have a broader conversation about how to deal with young criminals.

Groundbreaking for the 180-bed facility, at the state-owned complex that includes a dozen other prison buildings just east of downtown Baltimore, is scheduled for this fall.

“This is a building that nobody wants and barely anybody knows about,” said Terry Hickey, director of the Community Law in Action Center, which tutors jailed teens. “It’s a myth that the state is ‘doing this for the kids.’ Building it is a choice, not a mandate.”

Officials say the state desperately needs a youth detention center.
Currently, juveniles facing adult charges ‹ often, violent offenders charged with murder or serious assaults ‹ are crammed into a wing of the antiquated Baltimore City Detention Center. The U.S. Department of Justice has long criticized the facility’s inability to separate teens from their adult counterparts.

“The state does not have the capacity to meet federal guidelines,” prison spokesman Rick Binetti said. “We think this is the best solution.”

The project has been in the works for five years, and the state has spent $12 million on planning, demolition and site preparation. But activists and some public officials say the project has not been well publicized. Eric Solomon of the Campaign for Youth Justice called the jail a “hidden secret.”

In a letter delivered this week to Gov. Martin O’Malley, a coalition of groups including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Public Justice Center and the Campaign for Youth Justice, asked for the state to press “pause.”

About 50 activists gathered outside City Hall on Thursday, shouting “books, not bars” and “education, not incarceration.” They’re planning a briefing next week, which prison system officials have agreed to attend, and are attempting to spread their concerns about the jail through e-mail, letters and word of mouth.

“It’s never too late to make a better decision, one with better outcomes for less money,” said Hathaway Ferebee, director of Baltimore’s Safe and Sound Campaign, which recently organized the jail opposition. She said she learned of the project only this spring, when state lawmakers approved construction funds.

Activists worry that because the project has twice the capacity now needed for teens charged in adult cases, it will inevitably lead to more young people behind bars. “Guess what? If they build it, they fill it,” Hickey said.

Prosecutors, guided by law, determine whether to charge a teen as a juvenile or an adult. The allegations are then weighed by judges, who consider public safety risks when deciding whether defendants should be detained before trial.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he opposes the youth jail both for its location in an already prison-saturated area and for the “chilling” message it sends. A second $100 million jail project on those grounds, for women, is in development.

“It says to our kids, the only thing we’re interested in building for you is facilities that lock you up,” Young said. He said the money should instead be pumped into “proactive” anti-gang, education and jobs programs.

Advocates say the most dangerous youths need to be behind bars. But Ferebee argues that many could be monitored safely on the streets and that most juveniles charged as adults ultimately end up being prosecuted in the juvenile court system. A locked 120-bed facility for pretrial juveniles onGay Street downtown is routinely at or above capacity.

Of the 100 young men behind bars at the city detention center’s “youth wing,” 30 are charged with robbery with a deadly weapon, two dozen are charged with attempted murder and another dozen are charged with murder, according to prison officials.

That detention center, parts of which date to the early 1800s, is
dangerously crowded and unfit for juveniles, state officials argue. They say that retrofitting a building that old has proved nearly impossible. Although most counties run their own jails, the state oversees Baltimore pretrial services and jailing.

The layout also poses operational hurdles. The teens are required by federal law to attend school; they do so in trailers that they can reach only after walking through the men’s lockup. All movement of the adult prisoners must cease as the youths walk through. And there’s no space for any youth programming, such as counseling.

The Justice Department underlined concerns about the city’s handling of juvenile detainees in a scathing 2002 report that was more broadly critical of the Baltimore City Detention Center.

“Failing to sight-and-sound separate youth from adults in their living areas places them at serious risk of harm, by subjecting them to the undue influence and harassing behavior of adult inmates,” the Justice Department said.

Baltimore Sun