The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting an investigation into alleged civil rights violations of residents at the Tryon Residential Center, a spokeswoman said today.
Edward Borges, director of communications for the state Office of Children and Family Services, confirmed the federal investigation and said officials at the facility are cooperating fully with investigators.
"We started providing them with documents in March, and they visited Tryon at the end of June, and they do plan to come back," Borges said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Jamie Hias would not say what prompted the investigation, although she said investigations are usually started after local media reports or complaints from families. The investigation is being handled by the Special Litigation Section of the department's civil rights division, she said, and involves possible violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
The Special Litigation Section is charged with enforcing, among other things, federal civil rights statues concerning conditions of institutional confinement.
The facility houses about 150 boys and girls that have been referred there from family or criminal courts across the state after committing various crimes. It is run by the state Office of Children and Family Services and has about 360 employees.
"We're training our staff to recognize that the majority of children in our facility have mental health problems or conduct disorder problems and have learning disabilities, and we need to recognize that and work to help these children," Borges said. "For some of our employees, that change in philosophy has been difficult."