Here's why Kentucky officials are investigating a troubled youth detention center
Emergency calls reveal workers calling about fires, escapees and riots at the Jefferson County Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Lyndon.
“Get on the ground, now!” police shouted at kids refusing to get back into their cells at the Jefferson County Regional Juvenile Detention Center Sept. 8.
A worker said kids were “running amuck” as she called for help.
Teens eventually busted into the security control room, which controls the doors to cells as well as doors accessing secure areas throughout the facility.
Staff reported to 911 operators that there were only three workers total at the facility that night with almost 30 kids to supervise.
State officials investigate: 'Just completely unacceptable'
During a Legislative Oversight & Investigative Committee meeting on Oct. 13, State Rep. Jason Nemes, R-District 33, asked Juvenile Justice Department Commissioner Vicki Reed about staffing in the building on Sept. 4 and 5.
"There were only two staff members in the building to watch over 22 youths,” he said. “I think the rule is eight youth to one staff member, is that correct?”
Reed answered that is the rule during the day.
Prior to the meeting, Reed and Kerry Harvey, secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, remained silent publicly about the problems at the detention center.
“We make mistakes from time to time,” Harvey admitted.
The two told lawmakers that it’s been a challenge hiring new staff and retaining current staff. To counter that, entry-level pay has been increased and so have hourly wages for current workers.
Harvey also said they’ve increased security at the Lyndon center, while reducing the number of kids there.
“We essentially are going to use it as a holdover,” Harvey told lawmakers. “They’ll be held only until their detention hearing, which is usually within 48 hours.”
Nemes, who chairs the committee and whose district the center is in, says he’s hearing from current workers that not much has changed.
“They tell me that some of the changes that were purportedly made haven’t been executed,” he revealed.
Nemes says he’s looking for significant changes at the facility, including to the law allowing boys and girls of all ages to be housed together.
“The way this thing is being run is just completely unacceptable,” he added.
Frequent calls for help: 'What if the kids escape?'
Emergency responders have been making runs to the youth jail more frequently lately.
Prior to the Sept. 8 uproar, a female teenager who had already been arrested for arson, smuggled in a lighter which was used to set fires on Aug. 23.
The state admits that the lighter wasn’t found then and she used it again to set more fires four days later.
“She was concealing this disposable lighter in a body cavity,” Lyndon Police Chief Grady Throneberry said.
Furthermore, she threatened firefighters with a metal object after they responded to put out the fires, according to Throneberry.
A boy escaped the facility while officials were trying to get juveniles to safety during the fire Aug. 27. He was later picked up in a neighborhood nearby and is facing an escape charge.
Throneberry warns the detention center lacks the hardware to properly secure what he calls “seriously offending juveniles” in the facility.
“The doors aren’t secure enough, the locks aren’t secure enough, access control is not secure enough,” he said.
He says it’s unsafe for the kids and the staff, as well as for the neighborhood which borders the property, the Autumn Ridge subdivision.
“What if we have more escapes, what if these kids escape again?” Throneberry pointed out. “[Neighboring residents] don’t have any idea what these kids are capable of.”
Community concerns: 'Officials in charge are letting us down'
Autumn Ridge Homeowners Association President Ed Haines said the number one concern is escapees.
During the Aug. 23 fires, there was an escape and he got picked up in the neighborhood.
Haines says residents know the detention center houses kids arrested for very serious crimes, including shootings.
“If they’re understaffed, if the physical plant is not properly set up to take care of what needs to happen there, it certainly is a concern,” he complained.
One improvement he wants is better communication from the state pertaining to any more incidents and what’s being done to try to prevent them.
“That would be helpful to everybody, that idea of sharing information,” Haines said. “That hasn’t happened so far.”
He added the status quo is not good enough.
“The state has a job to do, our officials in charge are letting us down," Haines said.
Make it easy to keep up-to-date with more stories like this. Download the WHAS11 News app now. For Apple or Android users.
Have a news tip? Email email@example.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.