Allegations of child abuse against Polk County Sheriff's Office are contained in this email the LWVOC received today containing a letter sent to the Polk County Sheriff's Office by The Children's Campaign and Southern Poverty law Center. Wanted to share with LWVOC members.
March 5, 2012
Mr. Bryant Grant
Chief of the Department of Detention
Polk County Sheriff’s Office
via email: Bgrant@polksheriff.org
We are responding to your February 15, 2012 email communication to Linda Sutherland, Chair of The Children’s Campaign, and subsequent email or letter to members of that organization’s governance board regarding the Polk County Jail’s January 2012 pepper spraying of several children in its custody.
In those emails and letters, you claim that the children’s allegations are false. Yet, hasn’t the Polk County Sheriff’s Office declined SPLC’s repeated invitation to interview any of its clients who were involved in or witnessed the incident?
You said that video evidence refutes the children’s claims. Yet, isn’t it true that cameras do not capture in their view all areas where the children were pepper sprayed, and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office has not responded to SPLC’s request to view any video that may exist?
You claim that SPLC Attorney David Utter, who originally reported this incident, has never been to or toured the facility. Yet as your visitor logs will reflect, Mr. Utter has in fact been to the jail and spoken with several children detained there, some as young as eight years old. SPLC staff has also toured the facility, which is clearly no more than an adult jail ill-suited for children.
Your email defends the pepper spraying of children on the basis that the children were fighting. Yet, detention centers throughout the country operate without the use of chemical agents and with rare incidences of violence. Rather than merely monitoring children with cameras, these detention centers rely on staff professionally trained on the unique developmental needs of children to maintain order and safety.
You claim that the hundreds of hours of “training” Polk County Sheriff’s deputies receive make their detention of children superior to that of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Yet none of the Sheriff’s Office posted detention positions requires any background or training in working with children. By contrast, the DJJ has managed to detain pre-adjudicated youth for decades without resorting to spraying them with harmful chemical agents.
Given that Polk County imposes on children an adult correctional model—which does not provide constructive, interactive supervision — it shouldn’t come as a surprise that violence has become a prevalent problem at your facility. Indeed, this is not the first time that conditions created by the design of your detention model have resulted in fights among children while at the jail. Nor is it the first time that deputies have responded punitively with the use of pepper spray.
And for the first time, you claim that the children who complained about being pepper sprayed are now under criminal investigation related to the fight. Now that the incident has been brought to the forefront of public attention, is this merely a strategy to silence children who dare to report mistreatment rather than uncover the facts and ensure the children’s safety?
Since reporting the incident, your office has for the first time restricted youth's access to SPLC's lawyers, including children who have specifically asked to meet with SPLC.
We are also concerned that your emails and letters did not mention the other concerns brought forward by parents about the treatment of children at the Polk County Jail. Among these are the costly phone charges extracted on families just to be able to speak with their children. Through this omission, are you saying it is unimportant for parents to have a meaningful ability to remain in contact with their children while they are detained?
Finally, you devote much of your email to decrying the cost of DJJ detention as opposed to the bargain prices charged by the Sheriff’s Office. The point you raise may be justification to change the billing system to the counties. It is not, however, a reason to return to the bad practice of detaining children in adult jails.
Further, regarding cost, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Research shows that children held in adult jails are more likely to commit suicide, be sexually assaulted, and re-offend after release, when compared to children held in juvenile justice facilities.
Make no mistake, the true cost of detaining children in adult jail---where pepper spray is only one of the harms to which they are subjected---is being borne by these children, their families, and ultimately the community.
We stand by our strong opposition to detaining children in adult jails. We also object to the use of painful and harmful chemical agents. And we protest putting undue burdens on parents to have reasonable contact with their children.
Roy Milller David Utter, Esq.
President Director of Policy
The Children’s Campaign Southern Poverty Law Center