Is Justice Coming?

The U.S. Department of Justice is making inquiries regarding conditions at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, New Times has learned.

The inquiries are based on a New Times special report, "Slammed" ("The Kids Are NOT Alright," Amy Silverman, July 5), which revealed poor conditions at ADJC since 1998, when a federal court order monitoring the department was lifted. The court order came as a result of a 1987 class-action lawsuit, Johnson v. Upchurch, that stemmed from a case in which a boy was held in solitary confinement for several weeks. Similar situations have arisen in the past 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 where kids were kept in detention far longer than their recommended time of stay.

Dan Weiss, an attorney with the Department of Justice's civil rights division in Washington, D.C., confirmed last week that he has been calling officials in Arizona to ask about conditions at ADJC facilities. Weiss is affiliated with DOJ's special litigation unit, which enforces the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). The law allows the U.S. Attorney General to investigate and sue state-operated institutions like ADJC, when there is an alleged pattern or practice of violation of residents' federal rights. The Department of Justice has investigated juvenile corrections facilities in Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky and Puerto Rico, reporting incidents including inadequate mental health care, staff-to-juvenile violence and excessive use of isolation -- all similar to findings reported in the "Slammed" report.

Last month, a group of community leaders signed a letter calling on Governor Jane Dee Hull to form a task force to investigate the series' findings. Hull has been mum on the topic; George Weisz, the governor's executive assistant for crime issues, says the office is reviewing the articles and should have a response within the next two weeks.

Helene Abrams, juvenile division chief of the Office of the Maricopa County Public Defender and one of the letter's signers, spoke with Dan Weiss. "There is no active investigation at this point, there's just a little bit of inquiry," Abrams says, adding that she didn't have any information for Weiss because as a public defender she doesn't have interaction with her clients once they are assigned to ADJC.

Weiss refused comment, beyond confirming that he is examining the situation in Arizona. "The best thing for me at this point is not to say anything."

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at