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The Kids Are Still Not Alright

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Van Vleet says he did hear from the U.S. Department of Justice, which has a special division devoted to investigating civil rights violations at juvenile corrections facilities. He was asked to put together a package of material about Arizona, which he did; he hasn't heard back. Others in the juvenile justice community say they've heard from the Justice Department, too, although the federal agency refuses to confirm or deny an investigation.

At this point, Van Vleet says, it's too late for the governor to oversee any scrutiny of ADJC. Bring on the feds, he says.

"I think they need an outside agency to come in once again and review procedure. . . . That would be my advice to the governor."

It looks like she might take that advice. Hull will not create a task force to look into conditions at ADJC, says Weisz, who acknowledges he never bothered to write back to the community leaders. (Weisz says ADJC Director Dave Gaspar is meeting with each of the letter signers individually, although he can name just one, Alice Snell, who's actually had a face-to-face with Gaspar to date.) But Weisz says the court monitors -- including Van Vleet -- are invited to return to ADJC to review conditions.

"We are open to having the court monitors . . . review again that we are in compliance with the original [federal court order]. In fact, not only have we remained in compliance, we have exceeded the requirements," Weisz says.

A healthy agency should invite such a review, Van Vleet says. He's critical of ADJC for trying to hide problems within the facilities. "That's what I think is the most frightening thing going on in Arizona."


ADJC officials have complained about what they think is unfair treatment in the New Times series. Steve Meissner, spokesman for the agency, says he thinks the paper has a "proclivity for ignoring what we tell you if it doesn't fit your preconceived notions."

In fact, the New Times stories are banned from ADJC facilities, according to staff. Gail Edwards says an ADJC staffer told her son to tell his mother to read the stories, because they reported abuse similar to what Scott has endured.

The agency did not respond to recent questions about any action taken to follow up on concerns raised in the articles.



Weisz would not discuss specifics, but says the concerns raised in the stories have all been addressed to his satisfaction.

"I feel that Dave Gaspar and his staff have followed up on those issues in an appropriate manner and continue to do so whenever a problem arises. The department is not perfect, but it strives to do the best job possible and to resolve any problems as they come along."

According to documents obtained by New Times, abuse has continued in recent months:

• ADJC continues to keep kids in solitary confinement for days at a time.



As of October 22, four youths had been in solitary confinement for more than a day, and three more for almost a day. One had been in for 278 hours -- more than 11 days. There are additional reports of boys held in solitary at Eagle Point School in Buckeye for two weeks or more.

• Boys at one ADJC facility report they have to urinate in bags because staff won't let them out to use the bathroom.

In a memo dated October 10, quality assurance specialist Margaret Leon detailed an interview she held with a boy from the January cottage at Adobe Mountain School who reported that he was locked in his cell almost constantly because he refused to cooperate with staff. He told Leon that he sleeps all day and bangs on the door to get out to go to the bathroom, but that they often don't come, so he urinates in a plastic bag. "He said most of the kids do because the staff don't let them out. He said when they get out of the rooms then they flush the bags down the toilet. He said they do this all the time."

• A boy has been repeatedly denied entry to ADJC's sex-offender unit, even though he's had altercations -- and allegedly a sexual relationship with another youth -- at other ADJC facilities, according to an internal ADJC memo.

• An officer used pepper spray on a boy for refusing to move from a couch.

Several officers tried to convince the boy to go to his cell, but he kept refusing and threatened to hurt anyone who came near him. After threatening him with the pepper spray several times, an officer sprayed the boy twice. The boy then attacked the officer, according to the department's incident 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.