On February 19, The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com published its third entry in a multi-part investigative report into Arizona’s regulation of residential treatment centers for at-risk youth. Reporters launched the investigation last year in order to determine whether Arizona is meeting its duties to regulate the safety of young people placed in residential treatment facilities.
The results of the report are shocking. According to The Republic, the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) and Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) routinely collect data about the day-to-day operations of Arizona’s eleven Level 1 residential treatment facilities. Unfortunately, the regulatory agencies almost never share the data that they collect with one another, let alone other agencies or the public, and records are destroyed after one year.
The Republic gathered 2,100 incident reports; such reports are submitted almost daily and are required if a specific allegation of abuse or other health and safety issue comes to the facility administrator’s attention. The reporters’ review of these documents revealed that the ADHS and AOC had not made any “substantial corrective actions” even after dozens of reports of sexual abuse and hundreds of reports of physical mistreatment were submitted for their review.
In fact, The Republic discovered only two cases in three years of records in which the ADHS sanctioned facilities, resulting in a grand total of $1,150 in fines. Many of the most extreme allegations, like sexual misconduct by adult staff, were never fully investigated because the staffers were fired or left their jobs before the agency took action.
And those are just the reported incidents: one facility in Prescott Valley failed to report incidents of staff sexual abuse and sex with underage clients to the AOC in spite of regulatory requirements that they file such reports with both agencies within a day of their allegation.
The purpose of residential treatment centers is to provide a safe place for at-risk children to receive the help that they need to recover. Courts often assign children to these facilities if they are convicted of crimes so that they can continue to receive an education while being treated and rehabilitated.
Because juvenile offenses are often related to mental health disorders or abuse at home, at school, or elsewhere, many of these young people are at a high risk for being re-victimized. Placing them in a facility which is questionably regulated could subject vulnerable children to further abuse which can only amplify the conditions and circumstances which already plagued them.
If your child is accused of a criminal defense, their rights must be protected. Juvenile defense attorneys specialize in handling the unique issues of cases involving young people, but every case requires a new approach. As more information emerges about the regulation (or lack thereof) of Arizona’s residential treatment centers, legal strategies to secure the best outcomes for juvenile offenders will change. Although children who are accused of committing crimes often need specialized treatment, a court-assigned RTC may not be the best way to help them.