Tennessee Juvenile System Accused of Mistreating Disabled Minors

A new class action lawsuit claims that the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is unlawfully and unconstitutionally keeping disabled children in institutions resembling prisons, subjecting them to beatings, pepper spray, and denial of healthcare and education.

Page after page describes the horrific experiences of youths trapped in (DCS) custody” in the expansive 114-page civil complaint that was filed on Wednesday in a federal court in Nashville. 

The complaints include a young man who was assaulted over thirty-one times and a girl, 15, who was restrained, hauled across the floor, confined to a solitary cell, and hit with pepper spray while undressed. A single juvenile detention center in Middle Tennessee records 48 cases of pepper spraying each month.

The report includes children kept in isolation for 23 hours a day, with no access to mental health services or schooling.

Various DCS institutions have offers of  “bounties” to incite violence against fellow inmates, specifically targeting those who have voiced complaints about the facility’s administration or living circumstances. 

According to the lawsuit, youngsters would often get ramen noodles as a prize for beating their friends.

Children in the care of DCS have endured years of uncertainty and disorder as the agency has failed to locate suitable and safe homes for children from Tennessee. 

Some children have been left unattended for months after their discharge dates, while others have slept on the floors of governmental office buildings. 

An individual was allegedly subjected to solitary confinement for almost six months, with a minimum of twenty-three hours spent in his cell each day, as he battled depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It was stated in the lawsuit that he was not permitted to attend lessons.

Three children who are or were in DCS’s care have joined Disability Rights Tennessee, Sanford Heisler Sharp, and the Youth Law Center in filing the case.