Juveniles made ‘orchestrated’ attack on Kentucky detention center staff, state alleges

Published 5:07 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Three youths attacked workers at a juvenile detention center in Bowling Green in the latest violent outburst reported in the troubled system being overhauled by Kentucky’s governor, the state said Tuesday.

The three juveniles kicked and punched staff during the “orchestrated” attack Monday night at the Warren Regional Juvenile Detention Center, state officials said.

One worker underwent “medical evaluation” for non-life-threatening injuries, while the youths did not sustain injuries, the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet said in a news release. The attack was quelled by juvenile justice personnel without outside police intervention.

The facility in south-central Kentucky is among three high-security detention centers statewide that house male juveniles 14 years old or older who have been charged with a violent or serious offense. Bowling Green is about 123 miles (198 kilometers) southwest of Louisville.

One of the juveniles involved in the Monday night attack was being held in the detention center on a murder charge, while the other two were facing first-degree robbery charges, the state said.

The Monday attack occurred after all youth in the facility were ordered to return to their rooms for the night, the state said in its release. Three youths refused to cooperate and attacked the youth worker in the living unit. Two other staff members, including the facility’s superintendent, reported to the unit to assist. After being told to return to their rooms, the youths attacked the staff, kicking and punching them in the head, face and back.

The facility’s control room radioed for all remaining staff on duty to report to the unit. Workers restrained the youths and secured them in their rooms, the state said.

The state-run juvenile detention system has been beset by violence, spurring a series of actions by Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration to try to shore up safety and overcome staffing shortages.

Last year, a riot broke out at another Kentucky detention center, leaving several young people and staff wounded. Order was restored after state police troopers and other law enforcement officers entered the facility.

At another juvenile detention center, a riot broke out when some youths choked and attacked staff with a broom, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

The governor last week announced an increase in starting pay for detention center staff. In a big policy change, he also said that “defensive equipment” — pepper spray and tasers — will be provided for detention center workers once they undergo training, so they can defend themselves and others if attacked.

The state’s juvenile justice department hired a director of security and will add a compliance division to ensure best practices are followed systemwide, Beshear said.

The state is purchasing the non-lethal defensive equipment that includes pepper spray and tasers, but the equipment has not yet arrived, the state said Tuesday.

Last year, the Democratic governor announced that male juveniles will be assigned to facilities based on the severity of their offenses.

Beshear’s previous actions also included opening the state’s first female-only juvenile detention center.

The governor has said the changes reflect a sobering new reality: the male population held in the juvenile detention system has become “significantly more violent.”