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Complaint: Juvenile Detention Facilities Abuse Kids With Pepper Spray

Evening Edition

Aired 7/30/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Pepper Spray Use on Youth In San Diego County Juvenile Halls Scrutinized

GUESTS:

Kelly Davis, Associate Editor, San Diego CityBeat

Sue Burrell, Staff attorney,Youth Law Center

A group of legal and community organizations filed a formal complaint Monday urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the use of pepper spray and other practices used in San Diego County juvenile detention facilities.

Document

Youth Law Center Complaint

Youth Law Center Complaint

A Department of Justice complaint filed by the ...

According to the claim filed by the Youth Law Center, California Rural Legal Assistance Inc. and a San Diego area coalition of community organizations, there is extensive evidence that pepper spray is routinely used in juvenile detention facilities in violation of youths' constitutional rights to be free from excessive force and not to be incarcerated in conditions that pose a substantial risk of serious harm.

"We want to send a clear message to the county of San Diego that we, as community leaders, do not want our young people to be treated this way," said civil rights attorney Victor Torres, on behalf of El Grupo, a coalition of community organizations.

"We understand that young people who get into trouble need to be held accountable, but these extreme practices just make kids more hostile to authority and less able to accept the help that is offered," Torres said.

The complaint referenced reporting in San Diego CityBeat that found San Diego police recorded 461 pepper spray incidents in San Diego County juvenile detention facilities in 2011, an average of 1.26 uses of spray per day.

County officials received a copy of the Youth Law Center's letter to the Justice Department on Monday morning, according to a prepared statement that says the county "will review the report and welcome the opportunity to participate in any inquiry the Department of Justice decides to conduct."

The Justice Department should act under its authority granted by the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, according to the complaint, which says the filers have documented that pepper spray was inappropriately used on youth at risk of suicide or self-harm; on those who failed to follow verbal instructions; for room extractions; and on youth with sensitive medical conditions.

The complaint also presents findings with respect to alleged inadequate policies and procedures; the alleged excessive amount of pepper spray used; and the alleged failure to employ less restrictive alternative interventions first.

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