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UPDATE: Unsafe Conditions Persist at Juvenile Center, State Says

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UPDATE: Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring tells Style that his office has begun investigating claims that administrators at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center forged training documents.

“I will also explore the allegation that false information was provided to DCJS,” he writes in an email.

Are city officials trying to cover up unsafe conditions at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center? A recent report by a team of inspectors dispatched by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice seems to clear them of those allegations.

But the unsafe conditions remain a problem, according to the report.

Despite efforts to repair the facility’s malfunctioning electronic locking system, problems persist, indicates the state inspectors’ report, obtained by Style Weekly.

In a mailed response to City Auditor Umesh Dalal’s November report on jail conditions, the city’s director of Juvenile Justice Services, Charles Kehoe, writes that the company contracted by the city to install the locking system, Esitech, had made all of the necessary repairs as of Dec. 4: “All doors and locks are working from the panels on the units.”

But after subsequent visits to the juvenile detention center, state inspectors describe the reliability of the system as “questionable.” During initial tests, 24 of the facility’s doors indicated “false reads,” or reading as unlocked when the master control panel in the control room indicated the opposite. Additional repairs reduced that number to two, the report says.

The report also affirms a previous finding by the city auditor that employee training records are poorly organized. Several staff members at the detention center reported to inspectors that they had not, despite records indicating the contrary, received required safety and professional training.

Absent from the report is any determination that the documents are being manipulated by administrators. But at least one staffer told state inspectors that the signature on their training document had been forged.

At a news conference held last month, King Salim Khalfani, state director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, alleged that at least four staffers had their signatures forged on training documents. He’s also called for a criminal investigation of the facility’s administration.

Kehoe, after being shown evidence of the “irregularities” in the paperwork, acknowledged the disorganization and promised to take corrective action, according to the state report.

Asked last month to respond to the allegations, Mayor Dwight Jones issued a statement: “If there are any findings of any sort of criminal wrongdoing, such matters will be dealt with expediently. But we have nothing to support such claims at this time. We believe conditions are safe for the detainees, but we will get to the bottom of any concerns about the operations of that Center.”

The inspector’s report is scheduled to be presented to the Virginia State Board of Juvenile Justice on Jan. 10.

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