By The Vanguard Staff
SACRAMENTO, CA – Youth at the Kings County Juvenile Center are frequently shackled, “body-slammed,” pepper-sprayed and mistreated, according to a report release last week by Disability Rights California (DRC) and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA).
The report, “Youth in Crisis: How Kings County Locks Up Youth With Disabilities,” details the results of a multi-year investigation of conditions at the facility that has led DRC and DRA to urge Kings County to reform the “horrific conditions and needlessly punitive practices at the detention center.”
In a statement, the investigators said “youth are frequently shackled and ‘body-slammed’ by custody officers…routinely pepper sprayed in their cells, day rooms and classrooms, often in their face and eyes…or forced to sit alone in a hallway for hours at a time for minor infractions,” adding the youth with “mental health and behavioral disabilities are disproportionately subject to these practices.”
DRC and DRA’s investigation also revealed, they said, 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.”
“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.
The authors said 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.”
Thomas Zito, Supervising Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, said, “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.”
The disability rights groups noted, in June 2023, the Board of State and Community Corrections made findings that “corroborated DRC’s and DRA’s findings (and) 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 (and) Many of the…findings were repeat concerns.”
DRC and DRA released this full report with recommendations and images of the facility.