DHS places suspension on juvenile detention center

DHS places suspension on juvenile detention center
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas Department of Youth Services placed a temporary hold on the White River Juvenile Detention Center in Independence County.

The agency is reviewing certain practices used at the detention center that are believed to be banned, such as use of a mechanical restraint chair and 23-hour lockdowns.

Independence County Judge Robert Griffin said the detention center isn't using banned methods.

He said he believes the Department of Youth Services is just being cautious.

"I believe the Department of Youth Services is using an abundance of caution to be sure these banned practices are not occurring in some of the other facilities that have not yet been reviewed," he said.

Judge Griffin said he requested a meeting with the agency to help work on issues that arise in the day-to-day operations at the detention center.

"One of them accepted my invitation to serve 2 or 3 weeks as a guard in the facility to help give them a better working relationship of what is actually happening in the facility," Griffin said.

Judge Griffin said he thinks the state believes the facility is overusing the lockdown disciplinary action and would like to see a lighter form of discipline for minor offenses.

One of the other accusations against the detention center is the use of a mechanical restraint chair.

Judge Griffin said those disciplinary methods are not used with intent to harm a child, but to prevent them from hurting themselves or staff.

Griffin recalled an incident where a child refused to get in the chair.

"Their objection wasn't that we used it, the objection was that the juvenile was banging on walls, banging on the door, yelling and screaming and was told to settle down," Griffin said. "If, in fact when, they were told we are going to put you in the restraint chair they said you can't put me in it. When the staff came to do it, they opened the door and the juvenile submitted to being put in it without any struggle. The exception wasn't that it was used appropriately, it was that once they submitted, should you have gone ahead and placed the juvenile in the chair?"

Judge Griffin said if there is a consequence, there's an obligation to follow through with it.

He said in this case the juvenile was a danger.

"It was pounding with its fists on the wall and on the door and acting in an erratic manner," he said. "By placing them in a restraint chair then they can't struggle that way and will not be able to hit their head against a wall or some other destructive behavior."

Judge Griffin said the Arkansas Department of Youth Services will help craft new disciplinary measures at the detention facility.

"They will provide programs of alternative disciplines that will not escalate to what they consider to be a big disciplinary action," he said.

Griffin said one of the most interesting things he discussed with the representatives on Monday was the fact the state doesn't have a risk assessment for the juveniles that are sent into facilities.

"Each level of risk is going to have a different level of what your interaction with that juvenile would be," Griffin

He said he was told the administrative office of courts is working on a standardized risk assessment for juveniles.

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