By Mark Gillispie, The Plain Dealer
June 6, 2013
Three of Ohio's four Department of Youth Services prisons had some of the highest reported rates of sexual misconduct and abuse in the country, according to a national survey.
The facilities in the top 13 nationally include Cuyahoga Hills Youth Correctional Facility in Highland Hills, the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility and the Scioto Youth Correctional Facility.
The survey found that nationally 10 percent of inmates in youth correctional facilities reported some type of sexual misconduct or abuse. According to the report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2.5 percent of the youth reported sexual misconduct involving other inmates and 7.5 percent reported misconduct involving staff.
Ohio, along with Georgia, Illinois and South Carolina, had the highest rates of sexual victimization in the country, the survey concluded. It said 30 percent of youth surveyed at Circleville reported sexual misconduct or abuse, the second-highest rate in the country. The survey found that 23 percent of youths surveyed at Scioto and almost 20 percent at Cuyahoga Hills reported misconduct or abuse.
The figures are in stark contrast to the number of cases reported by the Ohio Department of Youth Services. Spokeswoman Kim Parsell said there were two substantiated cases of sexual abuse throughout the DYS system in 2012. Twenty-four cases were not substantiated last year.
Through May of this year, there were no substantiated cases and five unsubstantiated ones, Parsell said.
Gov. John Kasich has formed an inter-agency task force to analyze the federal report. The task force will continue to meet to make sure appropriate safeguards are in place, Parsell said.
"We're concerned to hear that youth surveyed reported at this level," Parsell said. "We're taking a hard look at this. We're reaching out to youth to re-educate them. We want them to be comfortable. We want them to report."
There are just over 460 youth imprisoned in Ohio's four youth facilities, Parsell said. Cuyahoga County youth represent one-quarter of that population. There are only 14 females imprisoned in DYS facilities. The fourth state facility for males is in Massillon.
Parsell said the state's four facilities use more than 1,000 cameras to monitor activities in common areas.
"We educate our youth on an ongoing basis and have posters that remind youth how to report," Parsell said. "Our administrative staff engage with youth regularly. Any time that a youth reports sexual victimization, we handle the allegation seriously and conduct an investigation."
Attempts to reach officials at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court were unsuccessful. A call to Administrative Judge Thomas O'Malley was referred to court administrator Marita Kavalec. A call to Kavalec was referred to spokeswoman Mary Davidson, who did not provide a comment.
One of the surprising findings of the national survey is that most of the abuse by staff members involved females having sex with male inmates. The study said 91 percent of inmates in youth facilities are male and 44 percent of the staff is female. The majority of this misconduct was consensual, the survey found.
That gender dynamic does not surprise officials at Just Detention, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group seeking to end sexual abuse in prisons.
"The extremely high rates of female staff sexual abuse against boys in custody is consistent with past research," said Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International. "Unfortunately, it remains the case that sexual abuse perpetrated by women tends to be taken less seriously than similar violence perpetrated by men. We can only hope that these new data will shatter some of the enduring stereotypes about sexual abuse in detention -- a crime that is devastating to victims, regardless of the abuser's gender."
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