Youth Decay

More than two months have passed since more than 30 community leaders wrote to Governor Jane Dee Hull asking her to create an independent task force to review conditions at the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

Their letter remains unanswered.

And the governor's office has yet to comment on concerns raised in a July 5 New Times package of stories, "Slammed," that detailed evidence of physical, sexual and verbal abuse of juvenile detainees by staff, inadequate mental health services and instances where kids were kept in solitary confinement for weeks at a time. The stories relied heavily on the department's own internal reports and other records.

Yet last month, Hull moved relatively quickly to name a task force to investigate charges of abuse at private "tough love" boot camps run in the state. Hull's action followed the death of 14-year-old Tony Haynes at the camp, run by Charles "Chuck" Long and his organization, America's Buffalo Soldiers Re-Enactors Association.

"I think it's unusual that I haven't even gotten a form letter thanking me for my letter," says Jan Christian, the lead signatory, who served as executive director of the Governor's Task Force on Juvenile Corrections in the early 1990s.

In that role, Christian worked to implement a federal court order designed to improve conditions at ADJC. That court order was lifted in 1998, and the New Times' stories revealed problems that have been occurring since the order has been removed. The court order was the 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.

The U.S. Department of Justice has been making inquiries since the stories were published, but won't comment on what sort of action, if any, it plans.

Now, some juvenile justice experts wonder if the governor's office will do anything at all to investigate or correct problems at ADJC. Hull appointed ADJC Director David Gaspar to the boot camp task force.

Those still awaiting an answer to their letter to the governor include academics, religious leaders, criminal justice experts, public defenders and private attorneys.

"I was hoping that they would respond, but I'm not surprised they didn't," says Stan Furman, who served in the Arizona Legislature from 1990-94. "I think if [Hull] called for an investigation she'd be saying no, she didn't have confidence in her folks."

Carol Burgess, former director of research and planning for the Maricopa County Juvenile Court, says it is "unconscionable" for Hull to ignore alleged problems at ADJC.

"I think a non-response is a way of ignoring the problem. And it diminishes the importance of that problem or at least says that the governor doesn't see the importance," she says.

Russ Van Vleet, a Utah juvenile corrections consultant who spent several years as one of the court-appointed monitors of Arizona's system, says the public should be worried that the governor's office is not responding to concerns about the juvenile corrections agency.

"The State of Arizona was under litigation for many years, spent millions of dollars on system improvement, and now has the potential of allowing the system to revert to pre-Johnson v. Upchurch days.

"Any time a system refuses to allow outside inspection, it is time to be alarmed. These institutions have not been called 'hidden closets' for many years without reason."

Van Vleet says the only way to make sure abuses of the past don't reoccur is through outside review. "Dave Gaspar should be welcoming this review if his system is the model that he purports it to be."

Barbara Cerepayna, an attorney who has represented ADJC detainees, says Hull's apparent inaction should not be surprising to anyone.

"Let's face it. She's a lame duck. What does she care?" Cerepayna says.

George Weisz, the governor's policy advisor on crime, says Hull has not responded to Christian and the other signers because the governor's office is still reviewing information brought out in the stories. "It's taking a little longer than I expected," Weisz says. Last month he promised to have a response by mid-August; now he says he'll have one by the end of this week.

Weisz says he would have preferred that Christian had contacted him privately, instead of gathering signatures and publicly releasing a letter calling for an investigation. He says Gaspar set up a luncheon meeting with Christian, which was scheduled for last week. But the get-together was cancelled due to travel delays associated with the terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

But Christian says the luncheon, which was arranged by a mutual friend and was not to include anyone from the governor's staff, is no substitute for a response from Hull.

"I certainly didn't see it as a response from the governor's office," she says. "I guess what concerns me more is that there is no evidence that the state is taking seriously any of this evidence [in the stories]."

"I wouldn't care if I never hear from them if they act on my suggestions or come up with some of their own."

Last month state Senator Tom Smith, a Republican and vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicated that he believes there will never be a task force named to investigate ADJC. Weisz won't comment on that.

Some still have hope, like Alice Snell, who chaired the Governor's Task Force on Juvenile Corrections during the Johnson v. Upchurch case.

"I'm disappointed we didn't hear from the governor," Snell says, "because I know she must care about these young people."