Feds: High rates of sex abuse at juvenile centers


Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.

WASHINGTON — A government study issued Thursday finds 13 juvenile detention facilities around the country have high rates of sex abuse and victimization, with nearly 1 out of every 3 inmates reporting some type of victimization.

The Justice Department study found that nationwide, about 12 percent of youths held in state-run, privately run, or local facilities reported some type of sexual victimization — but those rates varied widely from place to place. Six sites had reported victimization rates of 30 percent or higher.

"What those numbers say to me is that there are failures in hiring, training, supervision and response and oability around this issue," said Linda McFarlane, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, which fights to end sexual abuse of those who are detained.

About 10 percent of youths surveyed reported incidents involved facility staff people, and nearly all of those complaints were against female staffers. About 2 percent of the reported incidents involving other young inmates.

McFarlane called the level of staff abuse shocking.

"Many of these are already the most vulnerable and traumatized youth from all of our communities and they're placed for custody because they're considered to be a danger," she said. "If sexually abused in those very institutions that are supposed to help them prepare for life in the community then it's just an incredible travesty."

About 26,550 juveniles are held in such facilities around the country, and the survey — conducted for the government by Westat, a company based on Rockville, Md. — collected information from about 9,000 of them.

The study identified six facilities where the survey found at least 3 out of every 10 inmates said they were sexually victimized while in custody: Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility in Indiana; Corsicana Residential Treatment Center in Texas; Backbone Mountain Youth Center in Swanton, Md.; Samarkand Youth Development Center in Eagle Springs, N.C.; Cresson Secure Treatment Unit in Pennsylvania; and the Culpeper Juvenile Correctional Center, Long Term, in Mitchells, Va.

At Pendleton, the rate of incidents was double the national average for such facilities.

Another seven sites reported nearly as high levels of sexual abuse or victimization: Victory Field Correctional Academy in Vernon, Texas; Indianapolis Juvenile Correctional Facility; Shawono Center in Grayling, Michigan; Woodland Hills Youth Development Center in Nashville, Tenn.; L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, Okla.; Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center in Virginia; New Jersey Training School in Monroe Township, N.J.

At those 13 facilities, most reports of sexual victimization involved nonconsensual sex acts with another youth or serious sex acts with facility staff.

Bruce Twyman, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, said the agency was shocked that it had two facilities listed in the report. He said the department had stepped up its efforts to combat sexual abuse in the last year and a half with increased training for staff and upgraded video surveillance.

"It's not something that we're proud of," he said. "We look at it from this standpoint: Any sexual victimization is one too many so we want to be very aggressive about rooting it out, there's no question about that."

Twyman didn't immediately have details on disciplinary actions taken at the two Virginia facilities.

"Every time that we have been made aware of any victimization in our facilities we've investigated and taken appropriate steps," he said.

Staff sexual misconduct was higher in state-run facilities than in privately or locally operated sites, the study found, and smaller facilities tended to have fewer incidents of sexual victimization.

Nearly 80 percent of the victims said at least one incident took place in a common area, such as a classroom or office, while about half said at least one incident happened in the shower, and half of the victims said they had been victimized by staff in their room or sleeping areas.

Most of the abuse took place in the evening, between 6 p.m. and midnight, the study found.

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