Letter prompts look into juvenile detention center conditions

TOPEKA — Kansas officials are investigating a Topeka juvenile detention center after receiving an anonymous letter claiming boys are housed in "inhumane and immoral" conditions in a segregation unit.

Someone purporting to be a social worker at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex sent the letter earlier this month to numerous government agencies.

The letter claims the complex has inadequate sleeping provisions and insufficient hygiene materials, lacks medical treatment, and places juveniles in isolation for long periods. It includes the names of five juveniles it says are being held in poor conditions.

Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell said complaints against detention centers are common, and the letter's claims are being examined.

"Not all investigations are made public, but we investigate any allegation of wrongdoing that we receive," Miskell said. "When we receive info that gives us cause for concern that requires attention of an outside agency — the attorney general, for example — we bring them into the process.

Miskell said he didn't know when the probe would be complete and he wasn't sure whether any of the conclusions would be made public.

Juvenile Justice Authority commissioner Russ Jennings announced last month that he was making changes to the state juvenile justice system. Juvenile group homes and detention centers will be subject to twice-yearly outside reviews; facilities will be reclassified as low, medium and high risk; and a test will be administered statewide to assess juveniles' risk of reoffending.

In October, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported on a lawsuit alleging a 12-year-old boy was repeatedly raped by his 15-year-old roommate at the Forbes Juvenile Attention Center.

Miskell couldn't say how many investigations were done at corrections centers each year, but he said they happen "frequently."