A recent investigation of Colorado juvenile facilities uncovered the harsh reality of thousands of youth offenders in our criminal justice system.
After spending a year battling the Department of Human Services for access to juvenile facilities and incident reports, the Colorado Gazette investigated 10 of these facilities across the state.
The details of the reports were shockingly grim. They painted a picture of a system out of control, where the young inmates were routinely punished in a brutal and often illegal fashion by their correction officers. What kinds of punishments were they facing?
Solitary Confinement for Juveniles. According the reports, up until recently it was common practice to confine juvenile inmates to their cells for extended periods—up to 23 hours at a time. One juvenile was confined in solitary for 49 hours at Zebulon Pike Youth Services Center after getting into a fight. Another juvenile inmate was confined for 34 hours in Pueblo.
The Department of Youth Corrections (DYC) officially changed its policy on solitary confinement in early October, and said they stopped using isolation as a punitive measure in July of 2014. But the reports show that many young offenders continued to be isolated in their cells long after the DYC claimed.
Use of Force by Guards. The Gazette investigation also revealed a number of incidents during which guards used physical force to subdue the young inmates. Guards often used painful pressure points to control inmate behavior.
One report details a guard striking an inmate with his knee, targeting a pressure point nerve in the thigh. “He gave the resident a couple of knee strikes that were very effective,” the report reads.
The incident reports that were released only tell part of the story. The DYC refused to release any of the “Use of Force” files, which detailed any physical altercations between inmates and guards.
Correcting Youth Corrections
The Department of Youth Corrections has acknowledged that many improvements need to be made within the walls of Colorado juvenile facilities. They have moved away from solitary confinement as a punishment, and now only use isolation in extreme conditions.
Programs are also being utilized to coach correctional officers on alternative methods of dealing with unruly inmates. Instead of using pressure points and other forms of physical force on juveniles, guards are being trained to verbally de-escalate conflicts.
DYO executives have expressed that it is their goal to move towards a more treatment-based environment, and away from punishment in juvenile corrections facilities. But the environment in facilities – plagued by violence between inmates and other inmates, as well as inmates and correctional officers – will take a long time to change.
Juvenile Crimes in Colorado
The juvenile justice system was put in place for the purpose of rehabilitating young offenders, while still holding them responsible for their behavior through milder sentences. Thus, juvenile correction facilities are meant to teach, train, and rehabilitate the child while holding them accountable for their actions.
But getting caught up in the criminal justice system at a young age can have disastrous results for a juvenile’s development. The environment of isolation, fear, and violence present in many facilities is not an effective way to rehabilitate a young offender. In fact, many end up getting more involved in criminal activities after spending time in juvenile corrections. This is a systemic failure.
Don’t let your child fall into this trap. If he or she has been accused of a crime, we would like to hear from you. Contacting a knowledgeable juvenile crimes attorney is the best way to keep your child out of Colorado youth correction facilities that can lead to a life of crime.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.