By Mindy Ragan Wood
The Canadian County Children’s Justice Center new director Daniel Kern was hired in March despite being named in a previous federal lawsuit at another detention center.
Kern, accused of making sexual comments regarding a 13-year-old girl at the center, was a deputy warden for the Mississippi Walnut Grove Correctional Facility which served youthful offenders. That facility served children age 13 to adults age 22 who had been charged with adult crimes. He was also employed by the GEO Group from 1993 to 2012 which was contracted to manage the center.
Judge Carlton Reeves of Federal District Court declared in the 2012 settlement order that it “paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”
The center was sued after evidence showed “systemic, egregious and dangerous practices were exacerbated by a lack of accountability and controls,” court records show in 2010.
A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation reported indicated damning evidence of the center’s deliberate neglect and indifference to inmate safety and basic human rights.
The center was found to be “deliberately indifferent to sexual misconduct between staff and inmates, indifferent to medical needs, failure to provide medical care, and grossly deficient administration of medication.”
The lawsuit identified Kern as the one responsible for “overseeing the provision of medical and education services in the prison, for supervision and training of staff, and for reviewing, investigating, and responding to prisoner grievances.”
County Human Resources Coordinator NaCole Majors told the Yukon Progress that she knew about the lawsuit prior to hiring Kern. Majors provided a copy of his resume.
“His start date with them is in 2010,” Majors said and pointed out the lawsuit was filed the same year he was hired. She speculated the lawsuit would have been based on offenses by staff before Kern’s employment.
Court records show the DOJ began its investigation in October 2010 and continued through January 2011.
The report was released in March 2012. The center continued to operate until September 2016, but Kern left in 2012. It was not clear what the circumstances of his separation were from that private prison.
After his separation from Walnut Grove in 2012, he was not employed again until April 2013 as director of operations for a New Mexico facility, Adolescent Assessment Center.
Kern left in March 2014 for the Strategic Behavioral Hospital in Wilmington, North Carolina where he remained until October 2017. In his resume, Kern states Press Ganey found the facility improved customer satisfaction from 64 percent to 84 percent, a finding of which he takes credit.
He was hired as the county juvenile center’s new director in March 2019.
All has been quiet from Associate District Judge Bob Hughey’s office regarding the accusations against Kern. The judge is legally head of the CCCJC.
An anonymous statement posted to the center’s Facebook page on Oct. 30 denies Hughey had any knowledge of the accusations nor did Majors.
“There are criticisms being made about the lack of a complete investigation,” the statement reads. “But the investigation has been delayed by the withholding of this information until recently. In fact, there are allegations being made now through news sources that we are hearing for the first time. That doesn’t mean that the allegations are true or not true, but we have not yet had an opportunity to investigate.”
The statement names Majors as the human resources investigator.
“The Children’s Justice Center has asked Ms. Majors to conduct an internal investigation into this matter,” the statement reads. “Ms. Majors is not an employee of the Children’s Justice Center and does not office at the center. As stated previously, however, she is the county’s HR director. We want to address any personnel issues that may exists at the Children’s Justice Center, and her investigation will aid us in doing so.”