The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Puerto Rico have filed a lawsuit against the Puerto Rico Department of Corrections demanding information about allegations of the abuse of girls – including solitary confinement for girls who practice self-harm and sexual contact by staff – at a juvenile detention facility near the city of Ponce.
The ACLU learned of the abuse through interviews with girls at the facility, but the investigation was halted when staff at the detention center stopped the questioning and refused to allow the research team to return.
The ACLU was able to learn from the interviews that girls who commit self-harm, such as cutting the skin of their arms, are automatically given a six-month extension of their term of detention and subjected to solitary confinement. Self-harm is often a sign of depression or anxiety requiring the attention of a mental health professional. Other allegations included sexual contact by staff with girls, severe limitations on contact with family members, unnecessary strip searches and physical abuse.
“Nobody in custody should be subjected to these conditions, but it is absolutely shocking to think that these things are happening to young girls,” said Mie Lewis, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.
The ACLU requested public information about the confinement of girls at the facility to investigate the alleged abuse and to determine if boys in the facility were being similarly mistreated. There has been no response from the Department of Corrections.
“It is very distressing to think that girls who are badly in need of mental health care are not only being denied critical professional attention, but in fact are being even more traumatized by longer sentences and harsher conditions,” said William Ramirez, executive director of the ACLU Of Puerto Rico.