State investigates jail abuse complaints

Wednesday, December 16, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON -- State inspectors Tuesday placed an around-the-clock monitor who will watch activities involving juveniles in the already controversial Kenton County Jail.

The placement followed complaints that juvenile prisoners were being abused.

Officials from the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) were at the jail most of the day, Jailer Don Younger confirmed. Ralph Kelly, DJJ commissioner, authorized the investigation after the Children's Law Center in Covington called his office Monday to report that juvenile prisoners were allegedly being abused by staff, said Terry Sebastian, press secretary for the state Justice Cabinet.

He said he did not know the details of the juveniles' complaints: "All I know is that it involves allegations of abuse from the staff." Kenton County Judge-executive Rodney "Biz" Cain learned of the investigation in a phone call Tuesday from Mr. Kelly.

"It appears four or five (deputy) jailers are running amok," Mr. Cain said.

The jail is already under federal court orders regarding its treatment of juveniles.

The law center sued the county and the state in 1991, alleging that the facility's lack of proper education, recreation and mental health screening, among other things, violated the juveniles' civil rights. The suit resulted in a variety of mandates by U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman in July 1996. Among them: that the facility have both male and female deputy jailers, and that no juvenile be kept in the facility longer than 15 days unless prosecutors intend to try him or her as an adult.

He described the place as stark, barren and prison-like. A new regional facility is under construction in Newport. It's expected to open next summer.

The jail has been under other fire recently, too, for the June death of a diabetic man who was found naked in his isolation cell. The man's family has filed a $1 million federal lawsuit.

"How long (the investigation) will take, and what solution we'll take if the complaints have merit, I don't know," Mr. Sebastian said.

Mr. Younger said he gave the members of the state's internal investigation unit "free run of the facility," but added he did not know what prompted their visit.

"I know they came up to talk to the kids," Mr. Younger said. "They said they had some complaints. But until I talk to them, I don't know anything more."

He said that he could not comment about the new monitor, saying that all questions had to be directed to state officials.

Mr. Sebastian said it's not uncommon for the internal investigation unit to investigate complaints from juveniles or their lawyers. "The complaint is looked at to see if there's any proof to it," he said. "If there is, we take the appropriate action."

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