Colorado youth correction facilities under fire for culture of violence

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Youth correction facilities in Colorado are under fire for using excessive violence and harsh measures to discipline incarcerated kids.

The Colorado Child Safety Coalition has released a report indicating the state’s facilities have failed its youth. It says there has been an increase in severe measures like pain compliance, which is a violation of the kids’ constitutional rights.

Some of the disciplinary measures include knee strikes, solitary confinement and full body straitjackets called the WRAP.  Colorado is one of the few states in the entire country that uses the WRAP.

In 2016 alone, the Department of Youth Corrections staff put incarcerated youth in solitary confinement more than 2,000 times. They used physical restraints more than 3,000 times.

Xavier Long was incarcerated at DYC when he was 11 years old because he was caught with a knife and had suicidal tendencies. He said employees were verbally abusive, using foul language, and many times got physical. He said he was placed in the WRAP several times.

“I definitely think it makes things a lot worse in that it’s completely and utterly traumatic,” Long said. “It constricts rib cage a lot so it makes breathing really hard. You can’t really move your hands or anything like that. And kids can be in that for hours at a time. It’s almost like a torture device.”

The coalition said they’d like the DYC to start using the approach used in Missouri, which they consider the gold standard. It provides rehabilitative treatment to incarcerated youth and treats kids like kids, without force, isolation, or full body restraints.

They are recommending the pilot program immediately, saying it’s proven to keep kids and staff safer while maintaining low repeat rates and high educational outcomes.

Along with the report, the Coalition released a short video featuring an interview with Xavier Long, a former DYC resident who has significant mental health needs and, rather than being provided the treatment he desperately needed at DYC, was exposed to violence. The video contains the first-ever publicly released video of a child in the WRAP in DYC.

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