Broward County CO’s Violate Child’s 8th Amendment Rights
July 21, 2016 (Fault Lines) — If your child gets a stay in the Broward County, Florida Juvenile Detention Center, you have every right to be afraid. According to reports from concerned parents, it looks like the bored guards looking for a bit of fun where they can find it are willingly violating each child’s Eighth Amendment rights by placing “snack bounties” on kids and delaying or ignoring parental requests for communication.
It’s a tactic that’s well-known at other juvenile jails, including the Miami-Dade Detention Center, where a 17-year-old died last year after he was beaten to death by as many as 20 other kids. When staff members feel that a juvenile is acting up or has disrespected them, they reward other kids with snacks like honeybuns in exchange for attacking him or her. Then, they write up an incident report saying the kids got into a fight — thus evading responsibility.
The sickening idea of having kids beat up other kids in exchange for Twinkies is nothing, compared to the Broward County Juvenile Detention Center’s repeated decisions to deny parents contact with their incarcerated children. You can call as many times as you want. The question is whether your child will be physically able to pick up the phone when you reach the Detention Center’s number.
For weeks, McNair, who is 28 and lives in Pompano Beach, tried calling the center to ask why she hadn’t been able to see her son, whom she identifies by the initials A.R. Each time, she was told she’d get a call back. There was no return call, nor had her son made contact, which was unusual. Finally, she received a message from the Department of Children and Families that A.R. was about to be released from the hospital. He’d been in treatment there for 21 days after suffering from a potentially fatal asthma attack.
How do these outlandish escapades violate A.R.’s Eighth Amendment rights? One only need to look to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently held giving rogue inmates a good talking to against a prisoner’s wishes violated that inmate’s Eighth Amendment rights by acting with “deliberate indifference” when addressing a prisoner’s claims for help.
In 2012, Dewayne Cox, an inmate at the West Virginia Regional Jail, was viewed as something of a problem by his fellow cons and the jail’s CO’s. He continually complained through “blue slips” (informal complaint slips designated for inmates to address grievances internally) about the treatment he received at the hands of fellow inmates, specifically three who were continually “harassing” and “robbing” him. After submitting numerous slips, Cox told the corrections officers the last thing they needed to do was go talk about the complaints to the inmates accused of continually robbing and harassing Cox.
You can probably guess what happened next. Three COs had a nice chit-chat with the inmates antagonizing Cox, and told them to never do it again. That prompted a final plea from Cox to move him from the pod in which he was located or “do something,” because now Cox had been marked as a “snitch” and was due a beating. When the COs were informed of this, their response was to throw up their hands and ask, “What now, Cox?” and walk away. Later, Dewayne Cox was beaten savagely by inmates for the crime of asking for protection by COs assigned to his care.
Cox sued the COs, and the West Virginia Regional Jail, under 42 USC § 1983, alleging a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. His claim was the COs involved in “talking” with the inmates acted with “deliberate indifference” to a “substantial risk” to Cox’s safety. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Cox, finding the COs knew or should have known their lecture to the inmates continually harassing Dewayne constituted a “substantial risk” to his safety. That pulled the “qualified immunity” card from the COs’ playbook of defenses for being assholes, and allowed Cox’s suit to proceed.
Turning this question to Broward County and A.R., if his parents so desire, the Cox case is precedent in any civil rights action A.R.’s family chooses to pursue. If simply turning your back on an inmate is enough to trigger an Eighth Amendment violation and subsequent civil rights suit, there’s no reason to expect giving other delinquent children Honeybuns to attack A.R. won’t count as one too. The fact that this is a child, someone Broward County is tasked with rehabilitating to make sure doesn’t get desensitized to violence and become the next feared “super predator,” makes A.R.’s treatment all the more outrageous.
Kids adjudicated as “delinquent” and subjected to incarceration are still kids, no matter how much we want to paint them with the “criminal” brush. When we start ignoring their rights in lockup, and even abuse their rights for the sake of providing a CO or two a few giggles, then we’ve done a major disservice to the juvenile justice system and the youth passing through it on a daily basis. A.R.’s predicament in Broward County is an example of how children, our most valuable resource, are exploited in the criminal justice system and fall through the cracks. No child should be the object of assault for the sake of snacks and guards’ amusement.