Alan Johnson, Abuse of jailed youths falls, The Columbus Dispatch, January 8, 2010

But 2 Ohio facilities still exceed U.S. average for sex incidents

Ohio's juvenile-detention system, once plagued by inmate violence and sexual abuse, has slipped below the national average in juvenile victimization rates, according to the first National Survey of Youth in Custody.

However, two of the state's six juvenile facilities exceeded the national average: the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility, at 15.2 percent, and the Ohio River Valley facility in Franklin Furnace, at 14.2 percent. The now-closed Marion facility had the highest rate in Ohio, 16.9 percent.

The survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 12 percent of young people in state juvenile facilities and large, non-state facilities were victims of sexual assault or abuse by another offender or a staff member during the previous 12 months.

Ohio's overall incident rate was 11.65 percent, said Thomas J. Stickrath, director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services.

The national study, conducted by Westat of Rockville, Md., between June 2008 and April 2009, included a broad range of sexual misconduct, ranging from rape and other forms of nonconsensual sex to inappropriate touching and kissing. The national Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 requires the Department of Justice to do the study.

The federal agency reported that 13 juvenile detention facilities, including two in Indiana, had the highest rates of sex abuse and victimization -- about one out of every three inmates.

While Ohio's system would have undoubtedly fared worse in the past, Stickrath said, "In each of the categories, we're now below the national average.

"Obviously, our goal is to have zero tolerance for sexual abuse."

Stickrath said that since coming to the Youth Services Department about five years ago he has been "immersed" in efforts to curtail juvenile sexual victimization. That has included extensive staff training, youth orientation, added use of cameras and changes in physical layouts of youth facilities, including limited access to some areas.

The national study found that many incidents involved staff members, the majority of them women.

"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," said Linda McFarlane, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, an organization that fights sexual abuse of inmates.

"If they are 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," she said.

Another critic, Pat Nolan, president of the Prison Fellowship, said, "No crime -- no matter how heinous -- has a sentence that includes sexual assault. As a society, we have the responsibility to protect those we send to prison from abuses such as rape and sexual violence, especially when we are talking about children."

About 26,550 juveniles reside in such facilities across the country. The survey included responses from about 9,000 of them. Statistical averages were used to come up with final figures.

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