Teens kept in isolation cells at Kentucky juvenile detention center, lawsuit alleges

A federal lawsuit says two teenage girls were kept in isolation cells for weeks in unsanitary conditions at a troubled Kentucky juvenile detention facility

Dylan Lovan
Wednesday 17 January 2024 20:33 GMT
Juvenile Justice Lawsuit Kentucky
Juvenile Justice Lawsuit Kentucky (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Louise Thomas

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Two teenage girls held at a troubled Kentucky juvenile detention center were kept in isolation cells for weeks in unsanitary conditions, including a padded cell with no toilet, a federal class-action lawsuit filed this week alleges.

The teens were held at the Adair County Youth Detention Center in late 2022, around the same time state police reported a riot at the facility that started when a juvenile assaulted a staff member. That and other violent incidents at juvenile facilities prompted Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration to enact new policies that placed male juveniles charged with serious crimes in separate facilities and create a female-only detention center in northern Kentucky.

The lawsuit filed Monday also details alleged incidents with other youths at the center, including one who it says was being held in an isolation cell with “a Spanish version of ‘Baby Shark’ playing on a loop” and another who it alleges “spent days soaked in menstrual blood” while staffers insulted her about her hygiene.

The lawsuit seeks other plaintiffs who “were held in isolation” and subjected to “abuse and neglect” at the Adair County facility. The Associated Press left an email message seeking comment with a spokesperson for Kentucky's Justice and Public Safety cabinet Wednesday.

Both of the teenage girls who brought the lawsuit said they were kept in isolation during their entire stints at the Adair facility, with few opportunities to take showers. One of the teens, who was 17 and seven months pregnant at the time, said she was let out of her cell just five times in one month to take a walk, the lawsuit said. The other teen said she was kept in isolation for the entire four months she was there, including two of them in a padded cell with no toilet.

The lawsuit names several state officials, including the head of the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, Kerry Harvey, and former state Juvenile Justice Commissioner Vicki Reed, who retired on Jan. 1. Harvey is due to retire at the end of the month.

The lawsuit alleges that juvenile detainees had their civil rights infringed upon at the facility in south-central Kentucky and that the center failed to properly train staff. It seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages.

The 2022 disturbance at the Adair County facility began when a juvenile assaulted a staff member, took the employee’s keys and released other young people from their cells. One staff member was hospitalized with injuries. Order was restored after law enforcement officers entered the facility.

The new state policy for juvenile offenders took effect in 2023 and places male juveniles charged with serious crimes in a high-security facility. It replaced a decades-old regional system that put juveniles in detention facilities based on where they live. The governor said at the time that the old model could result in a juvenile charged with murder being housed next to someone held for truancy.

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