Associated Press, April 21, 1998

Teen's suicide, Assaults, Sex Allegations Close Colorado Youth Prison

DENVER (AP) It was the suicide of a 13-year-old boy that first got state officials worried.

Their two-month investigation found more problems: female staffers who had sex with boys, physical and verbal and emotional abuse of inmates.

On Monday, the state revoked the license of the High Plains Youth Center, concluding that the prison posed a danger to the inmates. It will be shut down Thursday and the 69 remaining inmates sent to institutions in their home states.

Barbara McDonnell, head of the Department of Human Services, said High Plains' staff was unqualified and insufficient for the number of inmates. The center also admitted youths with special mental and emotional health needs "when it was neither licensed nor qualified to serve them," she said.

Rebound Corp., which operates the prison and four other facilities in Colorado, will comply with the ruling, according to spokesman Tom Schilling. On Friday, the company filed a notice of intent to sue the state for false statements.

The investigation began in February, when an inmate from Utah committed suicide at the prison in Brush, 75 miles northeast of Denver.

The boy hanged himself in his cell during the night, when only one staff member was available to monitor more than 40 youths. His death wasn't discovered for more than four hours, even though room checks were required every five minutes.

The investigation documented four cases of sexual abuse, seven of physical abuse, 10 of neglect and one of emotional abuse.

Jane O'Shaughnessy, Rebound's chief executive officer, told lawmakers earlier this month that the allegations of child abuse and neglect were overblown.

"Things happen in institutions," O'Shaughnessy said last week. "You should be judged on what you did afterward. You find something, you get rid of people, you take other responsible, professional action."

O'Shaughnessy said four staffers were disciplined after trimming an inmate's Mohawk haircut to meet the proper standards, while six other guards were punished after illegally screening the horror-supense film "Seven" to inmates.

Since the probe, High Plains' inmate population fell to 80 from a maximum of 184. Colorado pulled out 40 inmates and other states including Nebraska and West Virginia soon followed.

Gov. Roy Romer said he had "had it" with reports of bad management, and called for its operators to clean it up, or shut it down. On Monday, the prison's license was pulled following a legislative hearing.

McDonnell did not know if Rebound would attempt to reinstate its license at the center, which opened in 1988.

Other Rebound facilities they have one in Virginia, one in Utah and three others in Colorado have not been in similar trouble, records show.

Some state lawmakers question whether the state has gone too far in relying on private prisons.

"My concern has always been whether we can retain control to protect inmates and the public. I don't want to become so dependent on private facilities we lose control," said Sen. Dottie Wham, R-Denver.

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