Juvenile Offenses

A federal investigation documents serious abuses at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections

The court order had been put in place as the result of a 1987 class-action lawsuit, Johnson v. Upchurch, which stemmed from a case in which a boy was held in solitary confinement for several weeks. Similar situations had arisen in the ensuing four years, New Times reported. The stories included evidence of physical, sexual and verbal abuse of juvenile detainees by staff, inadequate mental-health services and instances of kids being kept in detention far longer than their recommended times of stay. A later story in the series ("Learning Disorder," December 13, 2001) detailed inadequacies in ADJC's education system.

At the time the federal investigation was announced, in June 2002, state officials continued to praise ADJC.

David Gaspar, then director of the agency, wrote in a memo to employees: "We believe that our juvenile justice system is solid and ADJC's contribution has been a strong part of Arizona's success in turning around a troubled population of young people."

George Weisz, who was then-governor Jane Hull's adviser on crime issues, told New Times, "I think they've done an outstanding job, especially in improving over the past five years."

After the initial New Times stories appeared, a group of 30 community leaders signed a letter to Hull, asking her to create an independent task force to investigate concerns about ADJC. She refused. The federal investigation was the first public inquiry into the allegations.

Gaspar resigned from ADJC last fall. Michael Branham, who is on temporary assignment from his position as executive director of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, is his interim replacement. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Napolitano's spokeswoman, Jeanine L'Ecuyer, offered a prepared statement from the governor, written by her press staff: "I've just received the report and look forward to working with the Department of Justice on the issues it contains. Nearly all of the research for this report was compiled before I took office. Since I became governor, new leadership has come to the Department of Juvenile Corrections and a lot of progress has already been made to proactively address the many deficiencies my administration inherited." However, the governor won't say what has been done to address the deficiencies.

Clearly, the governor wants to distance herself. "This was a festering problem from before she took office," L'Ecuyer says, adding that progress is being made in the search for a new director.

The governor and ADJC have 49 days to address the concerns raised in the investigative letter, which includes a long list of recommendations, including a great deal more supervision and training for staff. If, after the 49 days have passed, federal officials are not pleased with the state's response, they have the right, under the law, to file a lawsuit.

"We are still combing through the report, developing our initial response," says department spokeswoman Patty Cordova, adding that ADJC intends to invite the investigators back to view changes the department has already implemented. "There will be, I believe, an action plan developed so we follow through on some of the recommendations that were provided to us."

E-mail amy.silverman@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8443.

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