The Bureau of Justice Statistics just released a report on sexual victimization in juvenile detention facilities. The report can be accessed here. Ohio, my state, reportedly ranks in the top four states in the nation for reported sexual victimization. We in Ohio have been reeling from this report. The Governor called for an interagency task force that has begun operating. The Ohio Department of Youth Services put out this statement (excerpt):
The safety of our youth is our top priority, and Governor Kasich has called for an interagency task force, which met yesterday and today to begin analyzing the report to make sure we have the strongest possible safeguards in place at our facilities. The anonymous survey approach used by BJS differs from the incident-based approach that states use, and the new information is important to us to make sure we are doing everything possible to protect our youth.
We are taking immediate action including assigning a Climate Assessor to reach out to staff and youth at Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility beginning this weekend. The Climate Assessor will reach out to youth and staff and observe the institutional culture in order to report back to the task force, which will meet again on Monday. Over the next two weeks, additional Climate Assessors will be in place at all four DYS facilities.
I am incredibly shocked. DYS just ended most of a massive piece of litigation that resulted in a greater amount of oversight and external monitor presence in the four youth facilities than possibly any other system in the nation has. The Ohio Public Defender has an office in one of the facilities and staff regularly communicate with the youth. Youth have access to a “Legal Assistance Program” provided by an external law firm. The large team of court monitors that are part of the consent decree have been regularly going through the facilities on site visits. The state’s Correctional Institution Inspection Committee has had an active presence in the facilities. I can’t recall the specific staff-to-youth ratio in DYS, but it’s something like 4:1. Each pod of around 20 or less youth generally has two to three staff assigned to it. It is just unimaginable to me that sexual victimization could be regularly occurring amongst the youth (in one youth facility, 30% of youth reported victimization) and that no one would hear about this. And yet the BJS methodology is reportedly extremely sound. So I am just flabbergasted about this and wondering what more needs to be done to prevent sexual victimization in Ohio’s facilities.