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Inside a Michigan juvenile detention facility: sexual abuse, assaults, say former staffers

Kara Berg, The Detroit News on

Published in News & Features

DETROIT — Sexual assaults, fights and poor supervision are rampant at Wayne County's troubled Juvenile Detention Facility, according to multiple former employees who paint a portrait of a facility in chaos.

In interviews with nearly half a dozen former employees, many of whom asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, they described a facility where kids are assaulted by staff and other children, and staff are assaulted themselves by the kids with no consequences. The Hamtramck facility houses both juvenile offenders and at-risk youth who've been placed there for various reasons.

Former workers said the continued problems at the Juvenile Detention Facility stem from multiple issues: understaffing, overcrowding, a lack of training for employees, limited support from higher administrators and an inability, or unwillingness, to discipline kids at the facility for bad behavior.

There have been at least four public incidents of sexual assault at the facility in just over a year: one by a group of boys against a 12-year-old in March 2023 that officials blamed on poor supervision by staff; one allegation of sexual assault by a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employee that prosecutors found not to have sufficient evidence; and two allegedly by a JDF employee — a 16-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy in custody.

The March 2023 sexual assault resulted in the state intervening at the facility and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans declaring a public health emergency amid what he called "untenable" conditions.

Though the county and state have since said conditions at the Juvenile Detention Facility have improved — enough that they temporarily removed around-the-clock staff in June 2023 and the county lifted its public health emergency — three employees who worked at the facility within the past year said the conditions are dire. Two of those employees quit their jobs within six months because they said the environment was hostile and the job was traumatizing. They said they did not feel safe working at the facility and felt like their supervisors were not backing them up.


Those three employees, as well as one who worked there more than a year ago, said staff regularly get hit and have spoiled milk or bodily fluids thrown at them. They also get rushed by the kids, sprayed with fire extinguishers and are injured while trying to break up fights.

The facility is licensed for 80 kids but has had as many as 140 at times.

Megan Kirk, a spokeswoman for Wayne County, declined to make Juvenile Detention Facility Director Mack McGhee available for an interview about the facility's conditions. But Kimberly Harry, another county spokeswoman, said in a statement that the county will continue to evaluate policies, procedures and security measures to ensure kids in their care are safe, and will make it clear to staff that they will fire and prosecute bad actors.

The county added a live, constant monitoring system of the housing units in the JDF in August, which is how one staffer's alleged abuse of the two boys was discovered, Harry said.


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