Fixing Juvenile Corrections
Whistleblowers and former inmates talk about lack of oversight. Video by IdahoOnYourSide.comvideo
Sexual abuse, physical abuse, and mismanagement are all charges leveled by whistleblowers at Idaho's Department of Juvenile Corrections.
A legislative listening session for state employees is not the first time whistleblowers have addressed the issues with everyone from human resources to the governor's office.
But still, they say it's fallen on deaf ears, and tonight we're on your side with why a lawsuit may be the only way to change that any time soon.
Juvenile corrections whistleblowers spent years collecting notebooks full of carefully documented issues and complaints.
The biggest of which are outlined in a lawsuit against director sharon harrigfeld that's 24 pages long.
"My biggest concern at this point, safety and security and the lack of integrity in our leadership, and accountability." says whistleblower Rhonda Ledford.
They claim the department is disfunctional from the top down.
"I've made several complaints to supervisors about different safety and security issues which have been ignored…I'm currently on graveyard shift. I was on dayshift previously." says Shane Penrod, safety officer.
So if that kind of retaliation and corruption exists, it begs the question, what kind of oversight is there when it comes to juvenile corrections?
For the most part, the department regulates itself, which former inmates say is akin to the fox guarding the chicken coop.
Ideally, an outside agency or board members would pay unannounced visits to facilities to see if they're complying.
But inmates say even if they do, there's a problem.
"The state officials that come in have no idea what they're looking for. They're so naive, but they're the people who are funding us. It's crazy."
Robert is a former inmate who requested his identity be hidden.
He says facility operators know how to prepare in advance.
"When the director or all her big wigs in the statehouse come in we put on a big show and it's like we get notified a week ahead. So we're waxing floors and making it look pretty."
"Everybody's on their best behavior and if not, you get locked down or put in a spot where you can't mess up."
The high profile arrest of a former security supervisor for having sex with a juvenile inmate put the spotlight on facilities in Canyon County but whistleblower attorney Andrew Schoppe says the problems are statewide.
"It's clear it's not just a local problem to Nampa. It's a system wide problem."
Schoppe says he knows of at least 5 cases of sexual abuse of juvenile inmates since 2000.
"The effect of that when they handle it internally is that you leave the potential exploitation of children in the position of author to do it again."
Robert says there are good staff members who mean well, but are overwhelmed by a culture of dysfunction.
"It feels like it's everyone but it's not everybody. It's the people who have control and are operating things in negative ways, they were higher ups. People with authority that can fire people and silence people and tell them you're not going to be involved and you're going to the graveyard shift."
Again, we asked for a chance to interview director Harrigfeld about these allegations and were simply sent a text reply that says, "The Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections is committed to providing safe and secure facilities for juveniles.
Since these stories have aired we've received several other complaints about mistreatment of juvenile inmates that we will continue to follow for you.