Disability Rights California (DRC) and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) have released a report, “Youth in Crisis: How Kings County Locks Up Youth with Disabilities.”
This report outlines findings from a multi-year investigation of the conditions at the Kings County Juvenile Center. DRC and DRA call on Kings County to reform what they claim are horrific conditions and needlessly punitive practices at the detention center. Read the full report with recommendations and images of the facility.
While at the Juvenile Center, youth are frequently shackled and “body-slammed” by custody officers or forced to sit alone in a hallway for hours at a time for minor infractions. Youth are routinely pepper sprayed in their cells, day rooms and classrooms, often in their face and eyes. Young people with mental health and behavioral disabilities are disproportionately subject to these practices, which leads to serial discipline, court reports, and extensions of their length of stay.
DRC and DRA’s investigation also revealed that the County’s youth arrest and detention rates are excessive – among the highest per capita in the state by several measures. The County lacks diversion program and detains youth who pose little risk, including for status offenses such as truancy.
The lack of diversion programs means youth with disabilities are held in the Kings County Juvenile Center for disability-related behavior that could have been addressed by County staff more effectively in the community, and at less cost.
“Our intent with this report is to call on Kings County to reform the horrific conditions in the Juvenile Center. Juvenile detention facilities across the nation have prohibited the use of pepper spray and other traumatizing practices, and Kings County should do the same,” said Melinda Bird, Senior Litigation Counsel at DRC.
“Kings County has neglected its youth with disabilities for years, preferring to cycle them in and out of detention rather than meeting their basic needs in the community. The youth of Kings County deserve better,” said Thomas Zito, Supervising Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.
In June 2023, the Board of State and Community Corrections’ (“BSCC”) made findings that corroborated DRC’s and DRA’s findings. The BSCC report found the County was out of compliance in certain areas due to excessive use of pepper spray, unlawful use of solitary confinement, and inadequate programming and counseling services. Many of the BSCC’s findings were repeat concerns. In its prior, 2021 inspection report, the BSCC also found that youth in crisis spent days in solitary confinement due to the lack of on-site mental health staff.
DRC and DRA call on Kings County to reform conditions at the detention center and the revolving door that returns youth to the detention center repeatedly, disrupting their education and employment.