Kid Row

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"I think a kid might potentially get killed. A kid might get seriously hurt," he says. "We are going to lose control of an institution because what we're doing is we're not treating kids, we're simply trying to keep a handle on behavior, kind of like the adult system does."

Steve Meissner wraps up his tour of Adobe and Black Canyon with a poignant anecdote about the late Richard Bilby, the U.S. District Court judge who oversaw the ADJC federal order. Shortly before the order expired, Bilby toured the Encanto unit -- ADJC's cottage devoted to mentally ill boys -- and, turning to line staff, told them, "You're doing the Lord's work."

"But not necessarily in the way God would," responds Jan Christian, who, as executive director of the task force that implemented the federal order, spent years in close contact with ADJC. She's had almost none since 1998, until reviewing information given to her by New Times for this story.

"They're playing God, there's no doubt about that," Christian says. She's more than disappointed in the ultimate outcome of years of work and millions of dollars.

"Nothing short of going out and closing those gates is going to change that institutional culture."

Read more stories in the Slammed special report.

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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 amy-silverman.com.