Corrections officials grapple with dilemma of children in jail

16-year-old girl, convicted of second-degree murder, being held in 'isolation' at adult jail facility

Trish Mehaffey
Published: March 5 2014 | 3:30 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:10 am in

Attorneys for a 16-year-old Cedar Rapids girl, who was convicted of second-degree murder on Feb. 6, will ask a judge Friday to move her from a county jail to another facility because she has been in “isolation,” with little communication, since October.

Isolation in jail is usually associated with bad behavior, but not in this situation. Daimonay Richardson has been in a cell by herself in Jones County since being charged with first-degree murder because, according to law, a juvenile being held in a jail can’t be in “sight or sound” of adult inmates.

If Richardson isn’t moved, she will have to remain there for months pending sentencing.

“For all intents and purposes, she is in solitary confinement,” Rachel Antonuccio, Richardson’s attorney, said. “She doesn’t have communication with anyone.

"There are no other juveniles, no schooling or services like in a juvenile detention center. She can only see a pastor who comes for 30 minutes every other week.”

Antonuccio said she also is concerned about Richardson’s emotional and mental state because she is pregnant. She would remain in this isolation until she testifies against her boyfriend, D Anthony Curd, which is part of her plea agreement.

His trial is pending until after a competency evaluation is completed. That may not be for several more months.

Some juvenile services officials in the state said holding juveniles in jails wasn’t the best option, especially if there are juvenile detention centers with sufficient space to hold them for a longer period. There also are some studies that claim that isolating these youth can be detrimental to their physical and mental health.

Richardson faces up to 50 years in prison, possibly fewer because of her age, for her role in killing Ronald Kunkle, 22, who was stabbed 30 times at his residence May 18, 2013, according court documents. Richardson admitted she and Curd, 19, armed themselves with steak knives and planned to rob and kill Kunkle.

Richardson isn’t the only juvenile being held in county jails across the state. All Linn County and Johnson County youth waived into adult court are sent to nearby jails because they can’t meet the sight and sound requirement. Some other jails throughout the state also don’t have that ability.

Part of Antonuccio’s argument on Friday will be that Jones doesn’t completely separate youth from adults. Antonuccio said Richardson has visual contact with adult inmates and can hear and talk to the adults.

Jones County Sheriff Greg Graver said Richardson is secluded from the adult population and is in a larger cell by herself. Richardson doesn’t receive any schooling at the jail but is allowed to have exercise time, apart from the adults.

The Linn County Juvenile Detention Center wasn’t an option for Richardson because it “draws the line” at youth charged with first-degree murder, Dawn Schott, director of center, said. The center doesn’t have room to separate someone charged with a forcible felony such as Richardson from someone charged with a lesser crime like burglary or shoplifting, she said.

“If we did that, that would be isolation,” Schott said. Richardson is "safe where she is. That’s always been the policy. We have to have the best interest of the other kids.”

The other nine juvenile detention centers in the state don’t have a policy on whether to hold based on how a juvenile is charged. Most base it on lack of space or a behavioral issue.

Brian Boyer, director of Polk County Juvenile Detention Center in Des Moines, said they have to consider safety of all the youth — but overall, it’s better to keep juveniles out of jails because at detention centers they can receive needed services such as education, psychologists and substance abuse treatment.

Boyer said they haven’t had many issues with adult-waived juveniles. Polk also takes in juveniles from five surrounding counties. Depending on the day, they could have five to six youth waived to adult court.

“If there are behavior problems, we just move them to the jail,” Boyer said. “It’s really a case-by-case basis, but it’s a better deal for them to stay in juvenile detention.”

Lou Cox, executive director of North Iowa Juvenile Detention Center in Waterloo, which serves 16 counties, said typically the youth waived to adult court usually don’t have behavior issues. They know their penalties will be more severe in adult court and don’t want additional punishment.

“I think they are more appreciative,” said Jeremy Kaiser, director of Scott County Juvenile Detention Center in Davenport. “They can go to classes, have counseling services and substance abuse. We have zero tolerance on behavior.

"It might be a bit of a risk to take them (more serious offenders), but I think it’s worth it.”

Tony Reed, director of Central Iowa Juvenile Detention Center in Eldora, said jails are not better for juveniles. There are many studies that point out how isolation negatively effects them.

They are more likely to attempt suicide and suffer from depression, he added.

One such study, “Growing Up Locked Down” by Human Rights Watch/American Civil Liberties Union in 2012, focused on juveniles held in solitary confinement but also included research about youth held in jails who were isolated because of their age and how it contributed to mental illnesses and affected their rehabilitation.

Reed admitted Central has a unique situation because of its capacity with 60 beds, which includes an expansion completed last month. They contract with 44 counties in the state and have 30 staff members but more will be added due to the expansion.

Don Ehlig, director of Southwest Iowa Juvenile Detention Center in Council Bluffs, said the Council Bluffs Jail can’t separate adults from youth, so it always gets juveniles. But intake at the center, which serves nine counties, is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Jerry Foxhoven, Drake Law School professor and director of legal Clinic, said there are no easy answers to protect juveniles in Daimonay Richardson’s situation. Each county jail has different situations regarding space, so it would be difficult to have one uniform policy across the state.

“But the law requires that if juveniles are held in a jail, they have to be kept apart and separate, without communication between them,” Foxhoven said. “Juveniles are different from adults, and the court makes a tough decision when it moves them to adult court.”

Antonuccio said she hopes the judge will consider moving Richardson to another juvenile center in the state, so she can start school work again, which she accelerated at while in juvenile detention before being moved.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mary Chicchelly will consider the motion at 2:30 p.m., Friday, in Linn County District Court.

Map of the Juvenile Detention Centers in Iowa

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