Alabama is still sending troubled and vulnerable children to facilities described as “violent and chaotic places where youth are physically and emotionally abused by staff and peers, subjected to wretched living conditions, provided inadequate supervision and medical care, and subjected to illegal seclusion and restraint,” The Montgomery Advertiser reports.
In 2020, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, a federally funded group authorized to monitor psychiatric residential treatment facilities, detailed the deplorable living conditions, physical and emotional harm, and lack of meaningful therapeutic opportunities that children as young as 12 were experiencing in facilities run by Sequel Youth & Family Services, a private company headquartered in Alabama.
ADAP’s monitors found that children were living in rooms with feces on the floor and blood smeared on windows and sleeping on concrete slabs with thin mattresses and worn, dirty bedding. The filthy, dangerous conditions included broken doors, missing floor tiles, and rat and roach infestations.
Children told the monitors that staff hit them, shoved them headfirst into walls, and slammed them to the ground. They also described being bullied and threatened by staff who often encouraged them to kill themselves.
An NBC News investigation into Sequel’s operations in 14 states nationwide reported that, even after the ADAP report, Sequel’s facilities in Alabama passed regular inspections and the state’s Department of Human Resources continued to send children to Sequel facilities.
After the NBC News report in December 2020, Oregon, Minnesota, and Maryland ended their contracts with Sequel. But in Alabama, the Advertiser reports, the facilities remain open today, and the only clear change is their new name: Brighter Path.
DHR and the Alabama Department of Youth Services license four Brighter Path facilities in Tuskegee, Montgomery, Owens Cross Roads, and Courtland.
Lawsuits filed this year suggest that abusive conditions persist in these facilities. The Advertiser reports that allegations include that a 13-year-old boy was “suddenly and unexpectedly picked up from behind by the staff member and then violently slammed to the ground.”
A 15-year-old boy was “horrifically brutalized sexually, physically and emotionally by other residents.”
Another 15-year-old boy was “placed in a ‘seg’ room for a full week. For two of those days, he was not provided with food or water, and he was not given access to a bathroom.”
The children kept in these facilities are 12 to 18 years old and in the custody of DHR, which has placed them there for mental health treatment that purportedly cannot be provided in the community, according to ADAP. The children sent to these facilities are disproportionately Black.
The Advertiser reports that 321 children are currently housed in psychiatric residential treatment facilities in Alabama, including in the four Brighter Path locations. Many of these children should not be in a facility at all because they could receive appropriate mental health services in the community, child advocates say.
In response to reports about conditions in facilities run by Sequel, DHR said in a statement to the Advertiser that it has increased the number of site visits it conducts and that “[s]everal facilities have made some significant changes in the buildings and in their programs.”
But staff are still poorly trained and inadequately supervised. As ADAP attorney Andrea Mixson told the Advertiser, staff who abuse the children in their care have prevented children from reporting abuse and learned how not to get caught on security cameras.
Sequel secured contracts worth more than $68 million from Alabama’s DHR between 2016 and 2020.
Asked whether they plan to reconsider or renegotiate their contracts with these facilities, DHR responded that their Request for Proposals process is “open to all vendors who meet the qualifications.” DYS did not respond.