Responding to a recent increase in assaults at the facility, the Disability Rights Center of Arkansas released the results of an 8-week investigation into the Arkansas Juvenile Assessment & Treatment Center on August 18.
In 2013, the Center, which houses 100 youth, reported 327 assaults, a 98 percent increase from the previous year.
Through interviews with more 50 youth at the facility, the DRC received reports that staff would “reward” youth, with a candy bar, for “punching, slapping or bothering another youth per the staff order.” In addition, large areas of the Center lack cameras, creating “dead areas” that make it difficult to monitor the youth.
As described in the report, DRC found that the Center is understaffed, particularly in regard to mental health practitioners. The facility employs only one psychiatrist, who visits the facility once a week, where he sees seven or eight of the youth per visit.
When assaults do occur, DRC found the complaint process exceedingly difficult to navigate. In addition, it found significant discrepancies between its own reporting and the reported data, further underscoring the need for a revamped process for reviewing the incident reporting process.
“If DRC had difficultly determining the process, we can only imagine how the process is perceived by the youth who are trying to file a report,” the report stated.
The Center has long been a concern for disability and juvenile justice advocates.
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette did a series of articles in June 1998. In 2001, the Department of Justice investigated the Center, and found that certain conditions at the facility violated the juveniles’ constitutional and statutory rights.
In contrast to the national trend, Arkansas has also expanded its use of detention centers in recent years. From 2001 to 2011, the number of juveniles in youth centers decreased 30.6 nationally, while it increased 37.5 percent in Arkansas.
A KARK4 News video about the investigation can be seen here.
The Disability Rights Center of Arkansas is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network, NDRN.