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Disability rights group raises alarm over conditions at Kings County Juvenile center

An interview room is shown at the Kings County Juvenile Center.
Disability Rights California
An interview room is shown at the Kings County Juvenile Center.

HANFORD, Calif. – A four-year investigation from disability rights advocacy groups revealed incarcerated, disabled youth in the Kings County Juvenile Center have experienced “horrific conditions” for years. The groups are calling on the county to reform the facility.

The “Youth in Crisis: How Kings County Locks Up Youth with Disabilities” report was recently published in partnership with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Center.

The report included findings that detainees were often pepper-sprayed to correct behavior, “body-slammed” and shackled for minor infractions, and left alone for extended periods of time.

It also described the detention center as “prison-like” and “regimented.”

The report outlined a situation where one youth dunked their heads in the toilet of their cell to stop the burning in their eyes from pepper spray. In another case, a youth was slammed to the ground for bringing cookies back to their room.

The investigation was launched in 2019 by the Disability Rights California and Disability Right Advocates organizations in response to complaints from families of youth who were detained.

Last year, the report and its findings were shared with Kings County officials. But according to the agencies, the county “refused to offer a meaningful response”

“They were fully aware of our findings,” says Rosie Bichell, a staff attorney with Disability Rights Advocates. “Our hope is that we will get some kind of change by publishing our report publicly.”

In an email to KVPR, a spokesperson for Kings County stated the county “recognized that immediate action is needed, and [we] look forward to meeting with Disability Rights California to discuss their alleged findings, and develop a plan forward.”

This story is part of the Central Valley News Collaborative, which is supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation with technology and training support by Microsoft Corp.

Esther Quintanilla reports on diverse communities for KVPR through the Central Valley News Collaborative, which includes The Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.