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Press Release

Justice Department Announces Civil Rights Investigation into Conditions at Kentucky Youth Detention Centers

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Kentucky

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced today that it has opened a statewide investigation into the conditions at eight youth detention centers and one youth development center run by the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice.  

The investigation will examine whether Kentucky protects children confined in these facilities from harm caused by excessive force by staff, prolonged and punitive isolation and inadequate protection from violence and sexual abuse. The investigation will also examine whether Kentucky provides adequate mental health services and required special education and related services to children with disabilities.

“Confinement in the juvenile justice system should help children avoid future contact with law enforcement and mature into law-abiding, productive members of society. Too often, juvenile justice facilities break our children, exposing them to dangerous and traumatic conditions,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are launching this investigation to ensure that children in Kentucky youth detention facilities are safe from harm, receive adequate mental health care and get appropriate special education services. All children held in the custody of the state deserve safe and humane conditions that can bring about true rehabilitation and reform.”

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky stands ready to protect the rights of all children in Kentucky, including those who end up in juvenile detention,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Bennett for the Western District of Kentucky. “We look forward to partnering with the Civil Rights Division and our colleagues in the Eastern District to conduct a fair and thorough investigation of these allegations.”

This investigation focuses on detention centers, which primarily hold children awaiting a court hearing. Nationally, detention centers admit nearly 200,000 children every year, holding approximately 16,000 youth on any given night. The average length of stay for a child in detention is 27 days. Research shows that even far shorter stays can have profound and potentially lifelong negative consequences for children.

The department has not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations in this matter. The investigation will be conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Both statutes give the department the authority to investigate systemic violations of the rights of young people in juvenile justice facilities.

The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section is conducting this investigation jointly with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Western and Eastern Districts of Kentucky. Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department via phone at (888) 392-8241 or by email at

The division recently secured a settlement agreement involving the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice’s Broad River Road Complex, the state’s only long-term post-adjudication facility for children, and is currently investigating conditions at five post-adjudication facilities for children in Texas. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division’s work protecting children’s rights in the juvenile justice system is available on its website at


Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Announces Civil Rights Investigation into Conditions at Kentucky Youth Detention Centers

Updated May 15, 2024

Civil Rights