The committee selected to review policies and procedures that led to the death of 17-year-old Cedric “CJ” Lofton last fall released their final report and recommendations with little fanfare, last week, leading some to questions whether the committee’s efforts will have much, or any, impact.
The report, developed across 13 meetings of the 22-member Sedgwick County Taskforce to Review Youth Corrections Systems Standards included nearly 60 recommendations for improvements and changes to the existing system standards and performance of Department of Children and Families (DCF), law enforcement and youth corrections programs.
While a large number of the recommendations were around funding, eco-systems and training needs, other recommendations dealt with systems, checks and balances for handling teens experiencing mental health crisis – the police were originally called to CJ’s foster parents’ home because he was reportedly experimenting a mental high crisis.
However, the report’s most pointed recommendations were targeted at the staff, systems and processes at the Juvenile Intake and Assessment
Center (JIAC) where CJ was held down in a prone (on his stomach) position for nearly 25 minutes until he was rendered unconscious. Despite Department of Justice memos dating back to 1995 warning law enforcement departments about the potential of “sudden” death from prone restraint, videos released of JIAC staff’s confrontation with CJ and staff members’ post-incident interviews with Wichita Police Officers, indicate a lack of awareness of the danger of prone restraint.
At the top of the committee’s recommendations for JIAC was a revision of the Department’s Use of Force Policy to eliminate the use of prone restraint except to cuff and sit or cuff and stand.
In addition, under restraint, the committee recommended requiring one staff person “to be responsible for video/audio recording any incidents of restraint, keeping time to ensure a youth is sitting or standing immediately after cuffing/restraining, and the youth is in overall good health and wellbeing. This person would also be observing employees and in charge of “tapping out” anyone who appears to have reached his or her physical, mental, or emotional limit when working with a youth. “This person should never assist in restraining the youth.”
A few of the other more pointed recommendations for JIAC reform included:
• Establishing a “calming room” at JIAC that could be safe for youth experiencing some form of distress, where they can be safely left alone and not restrained.
• Prioritizing purchasing in the county’s budget updated video recording equipment, with audio, for JIAC that covers more areas of the lobby and holding rooms.
• Not allowing a juvenile in a Wrap restraint be brought into the JIAC facility. Not allowing a single JIAC worker to handle intake for someone described as “a combative juvenile.”
• Ensuring all juveniles at JIAC are separated from each other (taken to another room), so they are not exposed to potentially traumatic events in the common areas.
While Pastor Carl Kirkendoll thought all of the committee’s recommendations were good, what stood out most to him as a member of the review committee were the recommendations on mental health, especially considering the growing problem with mental health across the nation.
“The fact that suggested the we have someone who’s qualified to deal with mental health issues 24/7 on call so when a foster child, or kid, or anyone who is in there dealing with those type of mental meltdowns and stuff, for someone to be there to help him,” said Kirkendoll.
The city and county say they plan to begin looking into the recommendations immediately with the goal of reporting back on their progress and plans going forward in 90 days and again at the end of the year.
“Ninety days is important to us, because that’s right about when we’re adopting our budget. There’s going to be a lot of budgetary request that are involved with this and that’s just the time that works out the best for us to be able to make some of these changes and implement them going into next year,” said Sedgwick County Commissioner Sarah Lopez.
At the end of the year is when the city and county begin working on their legislative platform for the new year.
“That’s going to be really important when we see some things for the state that we are able to ask the state, to say that we agree with these things, and we want to see them going forward,” Lopez said.
A full copy of the report can be found on the Sedgwick County website at www.sedgwickcounty.org/community-taskforce.
So far, the county also plans to put a dashboard on its website to track progress on the recommendations.