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KCBS Cover Story: Pepper Spray Use To Be Allowed At Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall Despite Opposition

SANTA CLARA (KCBS) — Starting next week, wards at Santa Clara County juvenile hall will be permitted to use pepper spray to break up fights among minors amid criticism from teachers, counselors and judges who have spoken out against the use of painful eye irritant on children.

Santa Clara County Supervisors got an earful this week from juvenile advocates that are strongly against the pilot project.

KCBS Cover Story: Santa Clara County Begin Use Of Pepper Spray At Juvenile Hall; Child Welfare Advocates Speak Out

Earl Thaxton, president of the Santa Clara County Association of County Educators decried the project. "Pepper spray in Juvenile Hall will set a dangerous precedent," he said.

While the goal of the project is too decrease injuries to staff, advocacy group Kids in Common Executive Director Dana Burnett disputed that assertion.

"There is no data to say that it does do that and in fact I've just read one article that says injuries actually increase with use of pepper spray, due to slipping and cross-contamination," she said.

No one debates the effectiveness of pepper spray. In YouTube videos, teenagers spray themselves in what's called a "pepper spray challenge" and recoil almost immediately, gasping for air and screaming for water.

"It's going to take the fight out of somebody, essentially," Mark Murray, president of the Probation Peace Officers Union, said.

He said that officers won't carry pepper spray canisters but will have them locked away and only brought out if the need arises.

"It will be much easier to kind of separate young who are engaged in these fights and keep them insolation until the kind of calm down. So that's the idea behind it." Murray said.

The six-month project approved early this year without public forum or debate will begin in October. Child welfare advocates say that giving guards pepper spray without public input was a "sneaky" move.

The majority of juvenile halls in California already use pepper spray but most others across the country do not.


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