Kyra Phillips, Rape in Juvenile Prison: Criminal Injustice, CNN,
January 8, 2010
PHILLIPS: It's not only traumatizing, it's shocking. Strong words being used to describe a brand new report on sex abuse in our juvenile prisons. Here it is: one out of every thee, three -- repeat that, one more time -- one out of every three youngsters out of a sample group of juvenile detention centers reports being raped by another inmate or sexually abused by a staff member. And get this, many of the offending staff members are women.
Take a look at this map. These are all the centers where the survey was done. Thirteen of them in several states, both public and privately run. About 9,000 juveniles answered a computer questionnaire and didn't have to give their names.
So, what's going to be done now? Linda McFarlane from Just Detention International, joining me live from Los Angeles. She works to prevent abuse at detention centers. So, Linda, what was the most shocking part of this report for you?
LINDA MCFARLANE, JUST DETENTION INTERNATIONAL: Well, I think, as you mentioned, the shocking part is, first off, the sheer prevalence, that around 12 percent, 12.1 percent of youth in the survey reported having been abused in the past 12 months alone.
But I do think that the fact that nearly 80 percent of those said that the staff members had been the ones that abused them, is dismaying. It's distressing.
PHILLIPS: So, what's going on here? Is it -- are there -- is it no checks and balances, is it poor training? Are there no security systems in place? How can this happen?
MCFARLANE: Well, I think it's a variety of things. When you see abuse at that level, what it points to is a failure -- problems at all levels of management. In hiring, in training, in supervision and accountability. It has to be breakdowns at all levels of the system for abuse of that size and that level to have occurred.
PHILLIPS: Have you ever sat down with any of these kids, and have they told you stories of abuse?
MCFARLANE: Yes. We -- we hear from survivors regularly at Just Detention International. We hear from them every week. Mostly they can only write letters, so the people who can actually reach out to us are the ones who have access and the ability to write and get information out that way.
But when we do talk with and have done focus groups in juvenile facilities, one of the things we've heard again and again is the youth perception that if they do reach out for help, if they do tell, they won't be believed. That it will come down to "you're a youth who has done something wrong to be here. You're not credible. You're not believable." And it's staff word against yours.
PHILLIPS: Wow. That's why they need organizations like yours. I mean, I thought that juvenile centers...
PHILLIPS: ... that they're supposed to help rehabilitate these kids and help them get back into the community to do good. Now...
PHILLIPS: ... if this is taking place like this, they could leave in a worse -- in a worse state than when they came in.
MCFARLANE: Well, that's just it, isn't it? That the juvenile facilities -- and every juvenile facility I've ever interacted with or spoken to, their stated goal is rehabilitation. That's the point of juvenile corrections is to take youth who perhaps haven't had the chance, who are particularly vulnerable to ending up in adult corrections and given them a chance, giving them training, mentoring, teaching, treatment, so they can go on to be productive adults in our communities.
And if they're traumatized in this way, when they're in the very place that they're supposed to be getting that care so they can move on and have productive adult lives, then their chances are essentially taken away.
PHILLIPS: So, bottom line, what needs to happen now?
MCFARLANE: Well, bottom line, currently the attorney general, the U.S. attorney general, holds a set of standards that was developed by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. This is a set of standards, rules or guidelines, that would set out steps in all those areas of corrections management, of hiring, training, investigations, follow-up care, and set out a -- a set of rules for institutions to follow, to address the very problems that were found in this study.
And so Just Detention International, one of the things we're working on very hard right now, in our -- would really push and insist that the standards be signed into a rule and be implemented meaningfully with effective oversight.
PHILLIPS: 12, we'll follow-up. Linda McFarland, sure appreciate your time today.
MCFARLANE: Thank you. Thank you very much.
PHILLIPS: You bet. And the Department of Justice wasn't able to make someone available to talk with us for this interview. But they gave us this statement. They said "This first of its kind study highlights the unacceptable conditions faced by too many youth in juvenile correctional facilities. The Department of Justice is committed to addressing these issues, and is taking concrete steps to ensure the health and safety to of all young people in these facilities. The DOJ plans to ask for training center to improve conditions and treatment for juveniles in custody, and to hire full-time juvenile detention and corrections coordinators."