Idaho juvenile corrections head defends agency to lawmakers

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The director of Idaho's Department of Juvenile Corrections defended her agency after lawmakers raised concerns about a recent lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by staffers at a detention center in the southwest part of the state.

Sharon Harrigfeld, who is up for reappointment, told the Senate Judiciary and Rules committee Monday that the department is doing its best to care for young people in its facilities. "We're doing everything in our power to make sure the juveniles in our care are safe and secure," she told the lawmakers.

Harrigfeld declined to comment on the lawsuit specifically. At least 10 former youths have come forward in the last year alleging they were sexually abused at the detention center in Nampa.

Democrat Sen. Grant Burgoyne of Boise probed for further information on Harrigfeld's role.

"I appreciate that the lawyers don't want you to discuss the lawsuit," he said. "But I think I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you a couple of questions that maybe you can't answer."

Burgoyne asked if she had testified and whether the committee could access her testimony. Harrigfeld said her deposition was public and that she would compile a packet of documents to give to the committee.

"I think we all appreciate that allegations get made, and it doesn't necessarily mean they are true," Burgoyne said. "I imagine that there are two or more sides to this matter."

In defense of her agency, Harrigfeld pointed to recent successful audits of facilities in St. Anthony and Nampa, carried out as part of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The Nampa auditor said that the facility was excellent, and the scope of the audit did not allow him to list all the positive aspects of the program, she said. A different auditor is performing three separate audits to maintain independence, Harrigfeld said.

Three individuals had filed separate claims against the state before a group of seven former detainees filed a lawsuit in October. They are seeking damages of $8.4 million for sex abuse that they say happened between 2008 and 2012.

The panel is expected to vote on Harrigfeld's reappointment on Wednesday.

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