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Author Topic: Read JHA's Op-Ed on Sexual Victimization in Illinois' Juvenile Prisons  (Read 1724 times)

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Offline TimeStandsStill

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It's time to stop these crimes against Illinois' imprisoned youth

July 16, 2013

For several months last year, representatives of the U.S. Department of Justice passed through tight security of 326 of the nation's jails and prisons holding juveniles. The federal contractors were there to conduct a survey about crimes committed on the inside where the youths had become the victims, specifically youth-on-youth nonconsensual sexual contact and sexual misconduct by staff working in the prisons.

Rape and other kinds of sexual misconduct are a serious problem in our nation's prisons, and that includes prisons holding only youths. It happens often enough that Congress has enacted laws requiring safety measures in local jails and prisons, and it is so common that the U.S. government conducts nationwide surveys asking kids for details.

Youths participating in the survey listened to instructions through headphones and answered questions on a computer screen questions about kissing and touching and many more direct questions not fit for a family newspaper.

The answers help explain why so many youngsters behave worse after prison than they did before entering.

Nationally, 9.5 percent of the youths said they experienced one or more incidents of sexual victimization in the previous year. Most of those reporting an incident said it involved adults working in the prisons, and more than nine of 10 kids reporting staff sexual misconduct said they had been victimized by female staff.

In Illinois, more than 15 percent of the 500 youths surveyed said they had been victims, and the overwhelming majority of them cited sexual misconduct by prison staff.

Five of the six youth prisons surveyed in Illinois had sexual victimization rates above the national average, and the federal survey singled out Illinois as one of four states with the highest rates of sexual victimization.

Alarms should be ringing throughout state government.

The John Howard Association has requested increased access to prisons and the ability to hold private conversations with prisoners, and we've recommended that the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice begin an aggressive outreach to families of the children in prison and replace its unreliable grievance procedure with one that is fair, effective and easily accessed by youths without fear of reprisals. Founded in 1901, the nonprofit John Howard Association of Illinois provides public oversight of Illinois' juvenile and adult prisons.

Recently, IDJJ Director Arthur Bishop announced his intention to bring in outside experts to conduct an independent review. We encourage an inquiry that pulls no punches and follows all leads.

However, Illinois needs more than a one-time investigation.

The state needs to do what several others already have done and create a permanent independent office an inspector general or ombudsman with 24/7 access to youth prisons and frequent reports to the governor, General Assembly and citizens of Illinois.
The state should not rely on federal surveys to identify problems in the juvenile prisons. Instead, the state should place a powerful protector, someone not directly connected to IDJJ, inside the prisons, and the youths should be given a voice in a new, fair grievance procedure.

When a government puts teenagers in prisons, they become state government's responsibility. At a bare minimum, the state must keep them safe inside those prisons and must not send them home more damaged than when they came into the state's custody.


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