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Immigrant teens were strapped to chairs and had bags put over their heads. Virginia just decided that’s not abuse.

“Conclusions of their investigations indicate that there were no life, health, or safety concerns for the residents," an official report stated.

Immigrant teens in a Virginia detention were strapped down to chairs and had mesh bags placed over their heads — but that doesn’t meet the state’s standards of abuse or neglect, according to a report obtained by the Associated Press.

“[Child Protective Services] completed its investigation into the allegations of abuse and found that there was no evidence of abuse or neglect,” the report stated, acknowledging that the center did use approved restraints, which include mesh bags. “Conclusions of their investigations indicate that there were no life, health, or safety concerns for the residents at [the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center].”


State investigators did, however, find that the treatment experienced by detainees at the center did need to be remedied. For example, the report noted that while the center used mechanical restraints that met regulations, “the use of a restraint chair and spit guards, as well as when and how it is used, should be better defined.”

The report also explained that the detention centers used a “Handle With Care” system that allows the use of some restraints for behavioural management. Those systems are legal to use on children in juvenile detention facilities in Virginia but should only be used for safety reasons, not as punishment, according to the AP.

The report also recommended that the facility get new furniture and paint, expand “culturally relevant programming,” and work to provide better care for detainees with mental health problems, and give staff better instruction in deescalating conflicts safely. They also recommended that the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center hire more bilingual staff so they can better communicate with the teenagers — a VICE News report showcased the center’s lackluster ability to tell the children why they’re being held.

“When I first saw that building, I was afraid,” J.Z., a 17-year-old immigrant from El Salvador told VICE News in June. He added that the SVJC would only tell him that he was “un peligro para la comunidad” — a danger to the community. “I was like, what am I doing here? I’m not a criminal.”


Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the review in June, after the AP published a report in which some of the teenagers said they were handcuffed, shackled and beaten; others said they were stripped down naked and forced into solitary confinement. Some teens said while they were in solitary, they were strapped to chairs with bags over their heads.

“I take these allegations very seriously and directed members of my administration to immediately look into these claims of abuse and mistreatment,” Northam told the AP. “The safety of every child being held there is of the utmost importance.”

But the investigators weren’t able to interview any of the immigrant teens who said they were severely abused, because after they made sworn statements they were transferred to other facilities or deported back to their home countries. The legal advocacy group representing the teens in their November lawsuit against the treatment at this facility called the state’s review “deeply flawed” and said they looked forward to “proving our case in court.”

On the other hand, Shenandoah deputy director Timothy Showalter said in a statement on Monday that he was proud of the state’s findings.

“The report confirms our long-standing dedication to being a well-run facility that treats our residents with respect and dignity,” the facility's statement said, according to the AP.

Cover image: In this photo taken Friday, June 22, 2018, an 18-year-old Honduran who said he suffered abuse inside a Virginia immigration detention facility poses in front of a window in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)