The Restraint Chair Policy Immigrant Teens Described Isn’t “Abuse,” Virginia Finds

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After a review of the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC), a report released by the state of Virginia found that restraints used on immigrant teens was not abuse. The report confirmed that the practices of a "restraint chair" and putting a mesh bag over a child's head are used at the SVJC but said these findings did not meet the legal definition of abuse nor neglect.

One June 28, the state's Department of Juvenile Justice and Child Protective Services updated the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security on their investigations. The report read:

The conclusions of their investigations indicate that there were no life, health, or safety concerns for the residents at SVJC. As of July 3, CPS completed its investigation into the allegations of abuse and found that there was no evidence of abuse or neglect.

However, the report recommended hiring bilingual staff as one way of improving the facility.

The Associated Press published the allegations numerous children made in public court filings. "Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me," a then-15-year-old Honduran immigrant teenager said of his time at the facility. "Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn't really move. ... They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on."

According to the report, the migrant youth who were plaintiffs in that lawsuit from November 2017 weren't at the facility when investigators visited. Their immigration cases had been resolved, either through deportation or movement to another facility, the wire service reported.

The lawsuit describes incidents that took place under both President Obama and President Trump.

"I take these allegations very seriously, and directed members of my administration to immediately look into these claims of abuse and mistreatment," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement released with the report. He added:

I applaud the quick and comprehensive examination conducted by the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Social Services, and encourage the facility to heed their recommendations. The safety of every child being held there is of the utmost importance.

In a letter to the editor published in The Washington Post last week, Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Scott Lloyd said his office expects the same care for children in custody as his own children.

"The same standard of care we expect for your kids and mine we expect for the kids in Office of Refugee Resettlement care," Lloyd wrote. He added:

We treat any allegation of abuse with the utmost seriousness. Whether it’s Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center or the Shiloh Residential Treatment Center, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has strong policies in place to combat incidents of abuse at every shelter under our purview. Any assertion to the contrary is misguided and inaccurate.

The Associated Press reported that SVJC is one of three juvenile facilities contracted by the federal government for "secure placement" of children in need of more secure housing. The facility sees an "average [of] 92 immigrant children annually," the wire service reported.