July 5, 2007

Chicago Activist Discovers Hispanic Youth Harshly

A Chicago-area doctor and activist has discovered a youth treatment facility in Indiana where ten Hispanic boys were placed under harsh conditions after a violent racially-tinged incident on May 7, 2007.

The South West Indiana Youth Facility (SWIYF), a youth detention facility in Vincennes, Indiana, about 130 miles southwest of Indianapolis, describes itself on its website as a center which offers "residential treatment for 148 males and female youth, ages 9-21, in gender specific housing units and activities." SWIYF also serves to house undocumented immigrant youth from Latin America who are placed there precisely because they're undocumented.

Nevertheless, a group of ten Hispanic youth at SWIYF -- undocumented immigrant boys from Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras, ages 13 through 17 -- were beaten violently by a team of SWAT agents, placed in lockdown conditions, and held in solitary confinement for two weeks, all in reaction to an incident at SWIYF where the Hispanic boys were called a racist name.

Dr. Marjorie Fujara, a Chicago pediatrician and activist with Chicago area CodePINK, was part of a team of doctors from a Chicago area hospital which made the discovery on May 26, 2007. "We were asked to evaluate some teenage boys, unaccompanied minors to respond to an allegation of brutality perpetrated by this facility that's supposed to help youth", said Fujara.

Fujara and her team interviewed nine of the ten Hispanic boys involved; one boy refused an interview, possibly out of fear. Two boys also involved with the incident were discharged on May 24, one ostensibly because he became too old for care at the facility, even though his 18th birthday fell just two days before his discharge. Most of the interviews by Fujara and her team were conducted in Spanish.

The nine boys who were interviewed all gave consistent descriptions of the May 7 incident which led to their extreme punishment. The Hispanic boys were called a racist name by others at the facility during a recreation period. The boys brought the matter to SWIYF staff, and asked for staff to intervene. SWIYF staff nevertheless told them to return to their rooms. Eventually, they obeyed the order.

Later that day, the Hispanic boys reconvened in a common area of their housing unit. They were talking with building staff about the incident and asking a second time for building staff to intervene. At this point, staff escalated matters tremendously. A SWAT team arrived, yelling at the boys in English, and acting with extreme violence.

The Hispanic boys, in their interviews, describe being sat on by SWAT agents, being forced against the wall, having their wrists and ankles shackled, getting "hog tied", and being dragged to a separate "punishment facility" where they were placed under solitary confinement for two weeks. Fujara and her team didn't see the solitary confinement facility, but they did find ample physical evidence of violent beatings consistent with the boys' interviews.

According to one evaluation filed by Fujara's team, one thirteen-year-old boy "was shackled at his wrists and ankles...hit in the left thigh by a baton and still has pain there. While [he] said that he did receive an ice pack for his thigh pain[, h]e also began bleeding from his mouth." In another evaluation, a seventeen-year-old boy was "shoved to the ground with a police officer's shield" and his "wrists and ankles were restrained"

Fujara and the other doctors found reason to be suspicious of the "normal" situation for Hispanic youth at SWIYF, in contrast to that of white youth at the facility. "Food wasn't as good [for the Hispanic boys] in the common area, while other boys were allowed to go to a cafeteria. When we asked how they spend their time, they said that 'we watch TV [all day].', and only later mentioned that they go to school part of the day", said Fujara.

SWIYF medical records obtained by Fujara and her team make almost no reference to the May 7 incident or the period of solitary confinement -- except for a single reference to increased dosage of an anti-psychotic drug for one boy already placed under medication.

Attempts to contact SWIYF staff for comment went unreturned.

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