WASHINGTON (AP) — A state review into the treatment of immigrant teens held at a Virginia detention center confirmed the facility uses restraint techniques that can include strapping children to chairs and placing mesh bags over their heads.
However, investigators concluded the harsh treatment described by detainees at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center did not meet the state's legal threshold of abuse or neglect, according to a copy of the findings issued Monday by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice and obtained by the Associated Press.
The regulators did make several recommendations to improve conditions inside the facility, including hiring more bilingual staff, expanding "culturally relevant programming" and improving screening to provide care for detainees who suffer from mental health issues. The state also said administrators should consider new furniture and fresh paint to make the jail-like facility "more developmentally appropriate."
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the review in June, hours after the AP published first-person accounts by children as young as 14 who said they were handcuffed, shackled and beaten at the facility. They also described being stripped of their clothes and locked in solitary confinement, sometimes strapped to chairs with bags over their heads.
The state investigators said they were unable to interview the immigrant teens who made sworn statements saying they were severely abused. Those who made the initial complaints as part of a federal class-action lawsuit filed in November 2017 were subsequently transferred to other facilities or deported to their home countries after the resolution of their immigration cases.
Northam issued a statement applauding his administration's "quick and comprehensive examination."
"I take these allegations very seriously and directed members of my administration to immediately look into these claims of abuse and mistreatment," he said. "The safety of every child being held there is of the utmost importance."