Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Georgia’s juvenile justice system is being criticized for a series of alleged sexual assaults in detention centers in metro Atlanta. As one criminal justice reform advocate writes, juvenile rape affects the community at large when young people return to society with disease and psychological scars. The juvenile justice department has responded with internal investigations, suspensions and renewed training efforts.
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By Craig DeRoche
A federal Department of Justice report released in recent weeks reveals an enormous black eye on Georgia’s reputation. Researchers found that four of Georgia’s juvenile detention facilities rank among the worst U.S. facilities for the sexual victimization of incarcerated youth. This includes one facility in Paulding County that shamefully led the nation, with nearly one-third of its teens reporting sexual assault by staff or other juveniles.
Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform affiliate of Prison Fellowship that I lead, has been a longtime advocate for the elimination of prison rape. We believe that whether the victim is the most heinous adult offender or a youth incarcerated for nothing more than stealing a bag of Doritos, sexual assaults are never part of a just sentence.
That is why Justice Fellowship spearheaded passage of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, which requires the Department of Justice to report incidents of prison rape, cite the worst prisons and establish a clearinghouse for complaints.
With the support of a broad bipartisan coalition — from the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Association of Evangelicals, to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Religious Action Center of Reformed Judaism — the legislation’s goal was to prevent prison rape while respecting the role of state and local governments in the administration of correctional institutions.
So why should the people of Georgia care about the rape of juveniles under its supervision? Aren’t these “juvenile delinquents” deserving of whatever ills fall their way while incarcerated?
Absolutely not, because the consequences of ignoring this issue are far-reaching. The grave, physical consequences of the rape of juvenile inmates threaten the health of our state. This hideous practice spreads HIV/AIDS, following victims and perpetrators alike when they eventually leave incarceration and re-enter our communities.
The emotional and psychological consequences of rape also harm a teen’s chances for successful re-entry to society. Egregious and often-repeated incidences of sexual violence serve not to teach these youth a lesson about the consequences of being incarcerated. Rather, they produce a teen who has become more hardened while incarcerated, someone who is more likely to take out their well-justified anger on others in unhealthy ways, often resulting in additional crimes.
Some may doubt if there’s really a way to prevent these sexual assaults. Yet this recent report is evidence that great progress can be made in combating sexual victimization in juvenile facilities. Nationwide, 26 juvenile facilities had no reported incidents of sexual assault, nor did Delaware, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia.
In the wake of this report, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice suspended 20 employees for failing to adequately do their jobs. The department is to be commended for not turning a blind eye to the lack of adequate protection of teens in their care. For no matter how terrible the crime, these kids’ sentences never included being raped.
Craig DeRoche is president of Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform affiliate of Prison Fellowship, www.JusticeFellowship.org.
By J. Mark Sexton
Long before anonymous data from a single federal survey raised concerns about sexual abuse in some Georgia juvenile detention centers, Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice took serious and meaningful steps to protect the youth in our facilities.
Our employees received training based on the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, called PREA. The law defines sexual victimization as “any unwanted sexual activity between youth, and all sexual activity between youth and staff.”
Georgia’s PREA programming efforts were launched in 2011 under the guidance of juvenile justice Commissioners Amy Howell and L. Gale Buckner. The department’s investigative staff received its first PREA training in November 2011. Also, the department received a federal grant in the fall of 2011 allowing Georgia juvenile justice to hire a full-time PREA program coordinator.
Senior leadership training and facility assessments continued last autumn as part of juvenile justice’s Prison Rape Elimination program implementation. Based on the department’s early national lead in PREA programming, a Georgia delegation was invited to demonstrate examples of its current programming advances at a national corrections conference for other juvenile detention leaders.
Since his appointment by Gov. Nathan Deal, Commissioner Avery D. Niles has helped juvenile justice’s reputation develop as a rising national leader in PREA program integration. Commissioner Niles remains focused on attaining a zero tolerance policy for PREA violations. The department’s goal is to ensure a sexually safe environment for youth in state care and custody.
A leading advocacy group released an outside study this spring funded in part by the Justice Department, stating that Department of Juvenile Justice leadership continues to send “a clear message of zero tolerance and commitment to PREA compliance. DJJ has built a strong foundation to comprehensively address the PREA standards and recognizes the importance of leadership and culture in fully achieving sexual safety.”
As part of juvenile justice’s public transparency policy, Georgia launched one of the most proactive youth detention education PREA programs in the country. At 27 juvenile detention facilities, the program begins teaching new arrivals how to stay alert and report sexual misconduct from the day they arrive.
The department has also launched an innovative, online, Intelligence Tipline for reporting sexual abuse. With GBI assistance, juvenile justice supports priority investigations and prosecutions for all substantiated prison rape complaints.
Through PREA education and awareness, juvenile justice has been building a new “reporting culture,” so residents won’t be intimidated about seeking help if they encounter sexual abuse or harassment. Commissioner Niles wants youth in custody to know it’s OK to break the silence and say “no” to sexual abuse inside or outside Georgia’s secure facilities.
For Prison Rape Elimination Act information, visit www.djjnewsandviews.org/preageorgia.
J. Mark Sexton is chief of staff at the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.