Fault Lines
17 January 2019
juvenile torture

Colorado’s Answer? Torture Troubled Teens

March 14, 2017 (Fault Lines) — If you’re a juvenile awaiting trial or serving a sentence in Colorado, you can expect knee strikes from screws COs, hours of time spent in tactical “restraints,” and punitive stays in solitary confinement. These revelations come from the Colorado Child Safety Coalition’s probe into the Centennial State’s practices of jailing kids. A “culture of violence” exists in juvenile detention centers, and it’s one perpetuated by Colorado law enforcement.

According to a recent report from the Colorado Child Safety Coalition, staff at the state’s juvenile corrections facilities are well versed in pain compliance techniques, using them with alarming regularity. The staff isn’t shy about restraining a kid they find troublesome, using everything from straitjackets to a restraint technique called “the WRAP” banned in Arkansas as torturous. Cross a CO and you’re headed to solitary confinement, with a metal toilet, bed frame, sleeping mat, blanket, and roll of toilet paper as your only companions.

The “culture of violence” at the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections is not only unsafe for teens and staff, but is further torment to youths who suffered abuse and neglect before they were sent behind bars, says the report from the Colorado Child Safety Coalition that calls for immediate reforms.

One of the immediate reforms called for is a ban on using “the WRAP” to restrain children. If you’re not familiar with “the WRAP,” the Denver Post explains the restraint technique.

The youth is wrapped up, the entire length of the body, and a strap attached to the chest and legs forces the youth into a seated position. In some cases, staff also cover the youth’s head and face with a cloth called a “spit mask.”

Juveniles placed in “the WRAP” reported remaining in that position for hours. According to the report, the technique was used in Colorado Juvenile Detention Centers 253 times in 13 months. That’s more than “once every other day,” according to the Denver Post.

Restraints like “the WRAP” weren’t the only form of compliance technique used in Colorado’s juvenile detention facilities. The Child Safety Coalition’s report details the use of knee strikes to sensitive areas, pressure point control, and slamming children into the floor or furniture if they didn’t comply with CO demands. Adding insult to injury, once the COs finished beating kids, they would try to make nice with assistance in cleaning up.

One [interviewed teen] said staff would treat them nicely after realizing “how much damage” they caused, asking “Can I clean your face? Can I get you a new shirt?”

How comforting it must be for the battered teen to be offered assistance in cleaning off their wounds and a fresh, non-bloodstained T-shirt once the requisite beating has been administered. No consideration is given to the incarcerated children who may have been abused prior to entering the juvenile justice system, and no compassion meted out by those charged with watching Colorado’s juvenile detainees. This sort of treatment is a perversion of justice more fitting for a television drama.

Division of Youth Corrections director Anders Jacobson did as expected when presented with the Colorado Child Safety Coalition’s report. He denied responsibility, called it “inflammatory,” said he was taking care of the problem, and asked for more money to stop his guards from beating kids.

… Jacobson called the report “inflammatory” and said he already is taking steps to cut back on use of force and seclusion….A $5 million budget request this year would add 80 employees to the youth corrections system.

Here’s the translation for those of you not familiar with bureaucratic cop-speak. “We don’t like what this report says about us beating kids, but we’re going to do something about it. Honestly, it’ll be the best way we can figure out to stop our COs beating up the state’s kids. In the meantime, please pay us more money so we have more officers available to stop the ones who beat kids from beating kids.”

It’s no wonder those who helped prepare the report for public release aren’t buying a word of Anders Jacobson’s talking points.

“They need treatment, not punishment,” said Rebecca Wallace, an attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the report’s lead author. “These kids, and the staff who care for them, are in crisis. They need a culture change in DYC, and they need it now.” […] “We have lost faith in DYC leadership’s ability to change the culture from within.”

Wallace’s words ring true. When issues like this get dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light of day, it becomes clear that those tasked with keeping Colorado’s kids “safe” see them as nothing more than subhuman criminals. You don’t lose your humanity when incarcerated. You are no less a child because someone has put you in a cage. This culture must change.

You have the right to remain free from physical abuse as an incarcerated juvenile in Colorado. It’s a monumental injustice those charged with watching locked-up kids don’t realize that.

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  • Ikker19
    18 March 2017 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    Hey…the “screws” are just enforcing that “wise” ages old axiom…”spare the rod spoil the child”…instead of being “vilified” they should be “lauded” for “modernizing” the “techniques”…