Lovisa Stannow, State should stand for juveniles’ safety, The Oklahoman, January 13, 2010

In a groundbreaking study released last week by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an unconscionable 12.1 percent of youth confined in juvenile detention facilities reported being sexually abused at their facility in the past year. Children locked up in Oklahoma fared even worse. Both Oklahoma facilities surveyed by the BJS, the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center and the L.E. Rader Center, had rates of abuse higher than the national average.

Rader was investigated by the Department of Justice in 2005. Although they were denied entry to the facility, investigators discovered, among other problems, rampant sexual abuse by staff. It concluded that Oklahoma "fails to protect youth confined at Rader from harm due to constitutionally deficient practices.” Years later, 25 percent of children held there still report sexual abuse by staff.

Young and scared, incarcerated children typically lack the prison savvy to protect themselves — street smarts they shouldn’t even need, as the mission of youth detention systems is rehabilitation. This report shows that correctional systems like Oklahoma’s Office of Juvenile Affairs are failing in that mission.

Sexual abuse of children in detention is an affront to our most basic values. Those victimized suffer long-term psychological problems and serious medical conditions including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Often, they fall into a cycle of imprisonment and further abuse. These consequences ripple through their families and communities.

But there is hope. Prisoner rape is preventable. Some facilities are plagued by sexual abuse while others are virtually free from this type of violence — sexual abuse is not an inevitable part of juvenile detention. Stopping it is a matter of committed leadership, staff who understand professional boundaries, and strong policies.

Last June, an expert commission issued the first national standards addressing sexual abuse behind bars, specifying such policies and practices. Mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, the recommendations represent a hard- reached consensus on best practices. Specific standards for juvenile detention facilities address core issues such as staff training, detainee education, housing, investigations, and medical and mental health care in the aftermath of an assault.

The standards were proposed in June 2009. According to the Prison Rape Elimination Act, the U.S. attorney general shall take no more than a year to formalize them as binding federal regulations. Unfortunately, instead of acting quickly to ensure that adult and juvenile detainees are protected from sexual abuse, Attorney General Eric Holder has allowed the process to drag on.

The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs doesn’t have to wait for the standards to be finalized — it can copy the efforts of other corrections officials who have become "early adopters” of these pivotal measures. And Oklahoma’s congressional delegation and other leaders can pressure the Obama administration to take swift action to formalize the standards. No one supports the sexual abuse of children — and there can be no excuse for further delaying the most important tool so far in the effort to stop prisoner rape.

Stannow is executive director of Just Detention International, an international human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention.

Read more: http://newsok.com/state-should-stand-for-juveniles-safety/article/3431586#ixzz0cW9WIdu4

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