RICHMOND — State investigators found no evidence of abuse at a publicly owned center for juvenile immigrant detainees near Staunton, which remains the subject of a federal lawsuit.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who announced the findings Monday, ordered the probe in June in response to a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of youth held at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center.
The suit asserts that the center’s detainees — undocumented immigrants between the ages of 10 and 17 — have faced “violence by staff, abusive and excessive use of seclusion and restraints, and the denial of necessary mental health care.”
Northam launched the investigation to look into any threats to health and safety at the facility, but the probe did not address allegations of past abuse.
The lawsuit remains pending, and the organization that brought it, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, called the probe “deeply flawed.”
“The fact that they conducted all interviews under the watchful eye of detention staff, and failed to even talk to counsel who have collected evidence and litigated the case for nearly a year, demonstrates a lack of seriousness in the review,” said Jonathan Smith, the group’s executive director.
The Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, which investigated along with Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, asked Child Protective Services to look into two potential cases of abuse or neglect. But CPS ultimately found no problems.
Juvenile Justice staff did, however, recommend several changes, including better training on the use of a restraint chair and a hood used to prevent detainees from spitting or biting. Investigators found that in two cases, staff members had been disciplined for using an “unapproved physical restraint technique.”
“I applaud the quick and comprehensive examination conducted by the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Social Services, and encourage the facility to heed their recommendations,” said Northam, a pediatric neurologist. “The safety of every child being held there is of the utmost importance.”
The center, owned and operated by several counties and cities in the region, holds juvenile offenders for the local court system as well as immigrant detainees on behalf of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. At the time of the investigation, it held 22 ORR detainees.
The center said it “welcomes the conclusions of today’s report . . . which found no instances of abuse, neglect or mistreatment of youth at the center.” It also said that it “embraces the recommendations of the report.”
The lawsuit, filed in October in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Virginia, alleges that detainees had been locked in their rooms for 12 to 14 hours per day, given inadequate food and been forced to use the toilet under the view of guards. One teenage detainee claimed he was tied to a chair and beaten by staffers after getting into a fight with a juvenile offender. Another said he was handcuffed and forced to his knees after failing to leave a book in his room when he went to class.