A number of the violations described in this report breach not only international standards but also the laws of the USA. Such violations include the brutal use of force and restraints, and the denial of adequate health care and other services. US courts have been an important mechanism to define the rights of children and to end appalling conditions and treatment. However, litigation provides a very slow, expensive and difficult remedy that is particularly inaccessible to children, many of whom are too young to be aware of their legal rights and may lack skills such as the literacy level required to take legal action.

Recognizing the vulnerability of all people deprived of their liberty to abuse and ill-treatment, international standards require authorities to appoint independent experts to inspect facilities on a regular basis and to draw the attention of competent authorities to any lack of compliance with standards and violations of the law. Within the USA a wide range of local and state systems inspect conditions and handle complaints. Although it was beyond the scope of the research for this report for Amnesty International to assess effectiveness of different arrangements, the organization considers that the following factors are significant and should be considered by US authorities:

1. In order to detect the possibility of widespread ill-treatment, skilled inspectors must periodically speak with random groups of children in confidence. The authorities should not assume that the absence of formal complaints reflects a satisfactory state of affairs. Children may not complain because - rightly or wrongly - they think they will not be believed; because they fear that staff might retaliate; they may not be aware of their rights; or they may lack the skills (such as literacy) or self-confidence to complain.

2. Inspectors must be and be seen to be completely independent of the management of the facilities that they are inspecting. If they are not, children may not make complaints because they do not believe their allegations will be impartially investigated.

3. Detention and correctional facilities must maintain comprehensive and detailed records of all aspects of their treatment of children that should be the subject of inspections, such as the use of force and restraints. Unless they do this, it is not possible for inspectors to perform their responsibilities thoroughly.

4. Grave violations of children’s rights have occurred even where external monitoring arrangements were in place. Authorities should undertake periodic review of their inspection systems to ensure that they are functioning effectively.

Recommendations State and local authorities should establish independent systems to:

These systems should have adequate resources and authority to undertake their functions effectively, and their effectiveness should be periodically reviewed.