DENVER — A new report highlights 3,611 incidents in which Colorado Division of Youth Corrections (DYC) allegedly used physical restraints on children in their custody to call for change in the state's correctional programs.
The Colorado ACLU released the report Thursday, citing a 42 percent increase in fights and assaults over three years, 3,611 incidents in which physical restraints were used in just one year and 2,240 instances of putting youths in solitary confinement over the same amount of time.
"Isolation and physical punishments don't help at-risk young people turn their lives around," Ann Roan, a Colorado state public defender who heads up state training for juvenile defense and complex litigation, said. "If we are serious about investing in Colorado's troubled kids, changing DYC's punitive culture is a must."
The report alleges kids do not feel safe in the facilities, saying those children are reaching out to outside organizations like the ACLU for help.
"Some staff are so fearful and undertrained that they are asking for pepper spray and stun guns to use on children in their care," The lengthy report alleges.
In addition to highlighting the physicality of staff in DYC, the ACLU released on Thursday video of restraints being used on children.
Anders Jacobson, the director of the Division of Youth Corrections, said safety and protection are not just a priority, but a responsibility for the division.
"Consistent with state law or policy, DYC uses physical interventions only after other non-physical interventions have failed and only with youth who are highly assaultive. The objective is to avoid injury to the youth, other youth or staff," Jacobson said. "Our policy is to never use physical management interventions as punishment."
Jacobson in a statement to Denver7 didn't deny that staff in the past have perhaps crossed the line, but said they are dealt with appropriately.
"Whenever we become aware of a staff member who fails to adhere to these policies, we report them to law enforcement and or county child protective services," Jacobson said.
One place where both the DYC and the ACLU agree is on increasing the safety of the facilities and adopting better measures that will ensure rehabilitation of troubled youth.
They are pointing to success in the Missouri Division of Youth Services.
"The Division is always looking to improve practice," Jacobson said. "In fact, Division leadership recently visited Missouri with the ACLU to review the state's approach to youth corrections."
The ACLU stands behind Missouri's success.
"There is a clear path forward," Rebecca Wallace, the ACLU of Colorado staff attorney, said. "The Missouri Approach, the gold standard in providing rehabilitative treatment to incarcerated youth, treats kids like kids. Without force, isolation, or full body restraints, this approach is proven to keep kids and staff safer, while maintaining low recidivism rates and high educational outcomes."
Wallace called for the DYC to embrace the Missouri Approach with a pilot program beginning in 2017.
Jacobson said during the recent visit, Missouri officials highlighted "many" practices that could benefit Colorado. In addition, the DYC is in the process of reviewing physical management techniques and comparing them to programs around the nation.