Youth abused in correctional facility
Ottawa Post, December 2, 2003

MONTANA -- In a series of incidents at the Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility in the State of Montana during 2000, staff were reported to have ignored prison policies that require immediate medical attention be given to people subjected to chemical sprays. At Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility, it appears, pepper spray was used to inflict pain on and to punish juvenile inmates.

Amnesty International has reviewed documentation in the case of one boy victim that shows he was sprayed with OC spray at least nine times in 19 months, including five times in one month in 1999. A senior staff member admitted during court proceedings in July 2000 that some Native American youths in the facility had been sprayed as many as 15 times each.

On 11 May 2000, five Native American youth at Pine Hills were reported to have thrown chairs at the guards. They were said to have been pushed against a wall by the guards, and sprayed directly in the face. One boy, "Justin" (a pseudonym), told church minister Bud Heringer that after they had been "saturated" with pepper spray, he had grabbed an empty canister and tried to spray guards. He said he was put into his cell, sprayed again, and a "towel was placed under the door". "Justin" told Heringer he was sprayed twice more on the same day, and incident reports from the Correctional Facility, made available to attorney Cynthia Thornton, indicated that pepper spray was indeed used on "Justin" three times in one day. "Justin" told minister Heringer he thought he was going to suffocate.

US correctional facility policy No.PHD 3.1.9A states that: "Offenders who have been subjected to chemical agents may suffer skin, eye or lung damage and should be removed from the gaseous area as soon as possible". Another policy provides for video monitoring of any incident requiring the use of force. Neither policy appears to have been implemented in Pine Hills on 11 May 2000. "Free flowing cool water" is meant to be offered to pepper spray victims and youth are supposed to be showered immediately.

"Yet staff at Pine Hills turned showering into an event involving a process that the youth claim is so humiliating that many of them refused to shower. The youth allege that showering entailed stripping and then walking to the showers naked, in handcuffs and shackles, and showering while being viewed by nine to fourteen staff members of both sexes. According to allegations by the juveniles, as well as the scant documentation from the facility that exists, boys who refused the shower were placed in their cells unshowered with the burning, oily residue covering their bodies. According to the boys, they attempted to wash off by splashing themselves with water from the toilet." (158)

Staff have reported that they used OC spray in order to avoid injuries, but Amnesty International is disturbed that it appears to have been used in some cases as a first option after verbal warnings. Given the pain involved as well as the health risks in the application of OC spray, Amnesty International is concerned that alternative measures could not have been found to control disturbed children in such cases.

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