Litigation: Abuse and Solitary at Shenandoah Valley Youth Facility
Immigrant children as young as 14-years-old who were housed at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton, Virginia say they physically abused and locked in solitary confinement for long periods of time, often without blankets or clothing. The youth’s claims are part of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
The Shenandoah facility is one of three juvenile detention facilities in the United States with federal contracts to provide secure placement for immigrant children deemed inappropriate for less-restrictive housing. While many of the youth sent to the facility were supposedly identified as “gang-involved,” clinicians working with the youth reported that these youth were not, in fact, gang members and were suffering from mental illness and trauma from events in their home countries – “problems the detention facility is ill-equipped to treat.”
Another Honduran youth held at the facility as a 16-year-old, reports that he was put in solitary confinement for periods of days and weeks.
Shenandoah’s executive director said that an internal investigation had concluded that the incidents described in the lawsuit against his facility were unfounded and “can be readily dispelled.” Smith said his staff will cooperate with state and federal investigations.
Kelsey Wong, a program director at the facility, testified on April 26 , 2018 before a Senate subcommittee.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam last Thursday ordered two state agencies to open probes into the facility, hours after the AP first published allegations of severe abuse at the center. The AP report also cited a child development specialist who previously worked with teens at Shenandoah and said she saw bruises and broken bones the children said were caused by guards.
Though incarcerated in a facility similar to a prison, the children detained on administrative immigration charges have not yet been convicted of any crime.