Breaking News
More () »

'Treated like a dog in a cage': Louisville families call for change at juvenile detention centers

Parents and community leaders are demanding immediate action from elected officials, concerned for their kids' safety and wellbeing.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville parents are worried for their kids' safety, specifically those being housed at juvenile detention centers across Kentucky.

Kentucky State Police (KSP) say they were called to assist, responding to a riot at Adair Juvenile Detention Center on Nov. 11.

The state Justice & Public Safety Cabinet says the initial call was regarding a child who had assaulted a staff member, taken the staff keys and released the other teens from their cells. KSP says law enforcement officers entered the facility and restored order.

However, families and community leaders are calling for immediate action from state and local elected officials, as they express concern for their kids' safety and wellbeing.

Louisville mother Juanisha Saunders told WHAS11 her son isn't getting the care he deserves, more than 100 miles away.

"He's a child. He can make mistakes, that's why he's there to learn from his mistakes," she said. "That doesn't mean he can be treated like a dog in a cage."

Not only will Saunders' son not be at the dinner table this Thanksgiving, but she says she hasn't been able to talk to him over the phone or through appointment coordinating with officials at the maximum-security center.

RELATED STORIES: Several hurt in riot at Kentucky juvenile detention center

Saunders, alongside Louisville clergy and faith leaders, told WHAS11 her son and other teens are being denied proper care while in state custody - like access to food, hygiene and adequate security in Adair County.

"We won't stand silent. We won't eat turkey. We won't fellowship with family knowing our brothers and sisters are somewhere struggling," Rev. David Snardon, with the Joshua Tabernacle Baptist Church, said. "Someone needs to put an eye on this, needs to lift this up."

The Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice says they and KSP are investigating the Nov. 11 riot and have created a compliance unit to determine if changes are needed.

They say every teen is getting showers, three hot meals and three snacks daily and are receiving all of their necessary medical care.

Meanwhile, Saunders and others who gathered along Jefferson St. in Downtown Wednesday are calling for state and city leaders to bring back a reformative youth detention center to Louisville. It closed due to budget cuts in 2019.

"It wasn't perfect by any means, but it was much better than what we're dealing with now," Rev. Snardon said. "We had those children closer and could intervene better."

RELATED STORIES: Kentucky man faces rape charges after allegedly keeping underage girl at his home

In response, a spokesperson with Mayor Greg Fischer's office said they "remain committed to finding the best way to move forward with our state partners to address equity challenges and increase staffing levels and resources to address both short-term and long-term needs."

Mayor-elect Craig Greenberg's office made a statement saying he is very concerned about the serious allegations at the Adair Juvenile Detention Center. 

They say the transition team has been in contact with leaders at the Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet. 

"The new administration will be ready to partner with the state to ensure steps are taken to protect the youth and corrections staff," Greenberg's office said in the statement.

Kentucky state Rep. Kevin Bratcher (R) from Louisville has proposed a bill to fund a return of a youth detention center to Louisville. It will likely be discussed in the next legislative session in 2023.

Louisville teens accused of serious crimes have typically been sent to a regional state facility in Lyndon, but due to overcrowding and staffing shortages, many are now being taken to and housed in Adair County.

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 assign@whas11.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter feed.

Contact reporter Isaiah Kim-Martinez at ikimmartin@whas11.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@isaiah_km) and Facebook.

Before You Leave, Check This Out