Increased instances of abuse and neglect have been documented at the juvenile detention facility where a New York teenager died late last month, state documents show.
According to records kept by the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, since January 2021, officials have found 11 cases of maltreatment inside the facility north of Albany. Those cases include physical and sexual abuse by staff and “deliberate inappropriate restraint.” Dozens of reports of “significant incidents” since 2016 at the Capital District Juvenile Secure Detention Facility have also been filed to the state juvenile justice agency, according to records obtained by The Imprint.
The reported abuse — along with details of a former female staff member who was prosecuted for sexual misconduct involving a detained minor — was first published last week by the Albany Times Union. Both the Times Union and The Imprint also reported earlier this month that the facility had been placed under a “corrective action plan” in February due to staffing, maintenance and other safety issues.
The teen who died in custody is being identified by a lawyer for his family as 19-year-old Caprist McBrown, of Middletown, New York. Disturbingly few details have been revealed about the rare in-custody death of an “extremely healthy” kid, attorney Daniel Smalls told The Imprint.
“There’s still too many questions out there,” Smalls said. “We don’t have any information as it relates to the cause of death. He had indicated he wasn’t feeling well in the days leading up to it, but this was a kid who was extremely healthy.”
Smalls said the teenager’s mother received a call from staff at the facility on the day of his death, notifying her that her son was unresponsive. He said she has otherwise not heard from any official source about what happened.
McBrown’s death is now being investigated by the Town of Colonie’s police department, the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, and the State Commission of Correction. Autopsy results are expected to be released next week, according to local police.
“We are in the very early stages of investigating and finding out the truth,” Smalls said. “The family is grieving. They want to know exactly what happened to their son. One day mom’s speaking with him, and within hours she gets a call he’s unresponsive.”
A spokesperson for the state’s Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) — which is responsible for certifying and regulating juvenile detention facilities — said since 2016 the agency had received 86 reports of “significant incidents.” Those incidents can include inappropriate restraints, abuse, or youth being treated in a way that could harm their health or well-being. The agency says it conducts comprehensive reviews of all these incidents, while the Justice Center is also required to formally investigate those involving abuse or neglect.*
The facility has also been required to complete 18 “corrective action plans” since 2016.
Spokesperson Solomon Syed said in an emailed statement that the agency prioritizes “the health, safety and security of youth in OCFS-licensed programs and facilities.” He added that his agency “takes proactive measures to ensure this, including frequent visits to monitor for compliance with state laws and regulations, working with licensed organizations to enhance reporting of alleged incidents and utilizing the findings of appropriate investigating agencies to require full implementation of any corrective actions.”
In addition to its state licensure and oversight, the Capital District Juvenile Secure Detention Facility is administered under a joint agreement by four Albany-area counties, who have a contract with the nonprofit Berkshire Farm Center & Services for Youth for day-to-day operations.
Berkshire Farm Center representatives did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
But records from public meetings show that the agency’s facility has struggled throughout the pandemic with staffing shortages. Family visits for the detained youth were also suspended to stem infection rates well past the time when other facilities had resumed them.
In an emailed statement Monday, the executive director of an administrative board for the institution touted its record. He called “the safety and care of the young people housed in the Capital District Juvenile Secure Detention Facility” the “utmost priority.”
Mark Castiglione, executive director of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission called the facility “a progressive detention model, providing educational and life-skills development to its population of youth” and noted that the operator, Berkshire Farm, “keeps the Board appropriately informed of all serious incidents in a timely manner.”
McBrown had been at the facility for two years, while he awaited trial for his alleged role in a deadly shooting in Schenectady. News reports show his case was being handled in the Youth Part of adult criminal court. He was one of four defendants in the 2020 death of 31-year-old Jennifer Ostrander, and faced a maximum penalty of 25 years to life, along with three other defendants.
*UPDATE: Nov. 22, 202. This sentence has been revised to clarify that while OCFS conducts reviews of “significant incidents” in juvenile detention, the Justice Center is also responsible under state law for formal investigations of those involving abuse and neglect.
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