Skip to main content

A State Report Says Severe Treatment of Teens at a Virginia Detention Center Was Not Abuse

A review issued by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice on Monday found that the severe treatment of immigrant teenagers held in a Virginia detention center does not amount to abuse under Virginia law.

The report, obtained by the Associated Press, concluded that the "restraint techniques" used by the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center "did not meet the legal definition of abuse or neglect."

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered the review in June after the AP published first-hand accounts of teenagers describing being shackled, beaten, and stripped naked at the facility. In November of 2017, a class-action lawsuit brought by Latinx teenagers held in the facility included sworn statements that alleged that this treatment occurred between 2015 and 2018, under both the Trump and Obama administrations. Some of the children were as young as 14.

The officials completing the state review were unable to interview any of the six teenagers who made sworn statements, as they have been transferred to other detention facilities or deported.

After interviewing 22 other residents of the facility—three of whom said they experienced abuse at the hands of staff—the state investigators said that they found no evidence of beatings or other harsh abuse. The investigators did find that teenagers had been strapped to chairs and had bags placed over their heads, but they noted that such restraint techniques are approved in Virginia for "out-of-control" residents.

Though kept in prison-like settings, the immigrant children in Shenandoah—who age from 12 to 17—have not been convicted of any crimes. They remain in detention as they wait for their cases to be decided in immigration court. As has been widely reported, immigrant children and teenagers are not provided attorneys in these cases and often must represent themselves.