Two lawsuits were filed yesterday alleging abuses at Lewisville Juvenile Treatment Center, a lockup facility for youths.
Attorney Jeff Priebe filed the lawsuits on behalf of mothers who had boys detained in Lewisville last summer. He filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County on behalf of Trinette Ento and another in Pulaski County on behalf of Bianca Williams. Their children are listed as “John Doe Child” in the court filings.
A named defendant in the complaints is Youth Opportunity Investments LLC, an Indiana-based company that has been under contract since last year to run five of the state’s youth lockup facilities last year, including Lewisville. The complaint also lists specific Youth Opportunity staffers and officials.
The lawsuits allege that the children held at Lewisville were subject to abuse:
shackling the juveniles for long periods of time; forcefully throwing and/or taking down the juveniles into walls and onto the floors; using physical force against the juveniles; forcing the juveniles to sleep in shackles; locking the juveniles in a room for long periods of time, etc.
“Such action caused the juveniles, including John Doe Child, to have pain, suffering, depression, anxiety, terror, and other medical injuries,” the lawsuits allege.
Youth Opportunities was awarded a one-year $15.8 million contract last May to operate lockup facilities for children in Dermott, Harrisburg, Mansfield and Lewisville. (The Mansfield site consists of two facilities, one for boys and one for girls.) The company was awarded the contract despite objections from legislators because of questions about whether the organization had properly disclosed past deficiencies in operating lockups in Michigan.
Last August, the Democrat-Gazette reported that the state’s juvenile ombudsman wrote to Jim Hill, the president of Youth Opportunity (and one of the named defendants in Priebe’s lawsuits), alleging serious abuses. From the D-G’s story:
Staff members in a youth lockup at Lewisville zip-tied children, forced them to urinate in foam cups or Gatorade bottles, slammed them into walls and gave them Benadryl when they needed mental health care, according to the state’s juvenile ombudsman.
“This is not treatment,” the ombudsman wrote in August. “This is torture.”