STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Two bits of information to give you now - in the state of Virginia, a state inspection of a facility holding immigrant children finds that some of these children were restrained by strapping them to chairs and placing mesh bags over their heads. That's one piece of information. Here's the other. The investigators did not find enough evidence to meet state standards for determining that the children were abused. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.
RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: The investigation was conducted by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice in response to a federal lawsuit filed in October 2017. It alleges that immigrant minors at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center are subject to routine verbal abuse and physical assault by staff and, quote, "the extreme and inappropriate use of restraints and seclusion." Under federal law, such minors, known as unaccompanied children, who crossed the border without their parents are supposed to be placed in the least restrictive setting possible.
In June of this year, The Associated Press reported that the children at the Shenandoah center were stripped of their clothes and locked in solitary confinement, strapped to chairs with bags over their heads. Soon thereafter, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered an investigation.
In late June, state investigators visited Shenandoah, but by that time, none of the immigrant minors who had originally made sworn depositions about abuse were still there. They had either been transferred to other facilities or had been deported back to their home countries. In a 12-page report, the state investigators say they found that Shenandoah staff were trained in the use of restraint chairs and devices called mesh spit guards. These devices can be used to keep a, quote, "out-of-control resident from spitting or biting a staff member."
The report says, quote, "interviews with staff and residents revealed that due process is not well-understood, and this lack of understanding appears to be related to language barriers," end quote. The report concludes that the state investigators found no evidence of abuse or neglect, but it recommends better staff training to help it understand the cultural backgrounds of the immigrant minors and the hiring of bilingual staff. Governor Northam applauded the, quote, "quick and comprehensive examination by state investigators." But advocates for the immigrant children vow to press on with their lawsuit. Meanwhile, members of the Senate have called for an inspection of all federal facilities housing immigrant children. Richard Gonzales, NPR News.