Weekly Notes: Panel reviews sex victimization survey in JJ facilities, and more


Quick one today, as we are hard at work preparing the November/December issue of Youth Today. The upcoming issue includes a look at the upcoming Survey of Juveniles Charged in Adult Criminal Courts Solicitation, which will be done by Westat and the National Center on Juvenile Justice. Both research groups met with the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) this week to discuss how this thing will get done. Lots of obstacles and expectations with this survey, but it might be the most important thing that comes out of the 2010 federal juvenile justice money.

***The Review Panel on Prison Rape released its report on the findings of Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Correctional Facilities, the well-known survey released last summer by BJS that found 12 percent of incarcerated juveniles report some form of sexual victimization. The vast majority of reported victimization was staff-on-youth, and the vast majority of those alleged transgressions involved a female staff member and male ward.

The three-member panel visited two of the facilities that reported the lowest rates of reported victimization and three with the highest rates, then interviewed key players at the state and facility level. It was, by the panel’s own admission, an unscientific approach meant only to learn and not produce conclusions.

Two themes came through to JJ Today from the report. First, the panel seemed intrigued by the fact that the presence of Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) coordinators and policies were not much of a predictor of reported victimization at the five facilities. The lock-up with the highest rate, Indiana’s Pendleton facility, had a pretty rigorous reporting and investigation structure, according to the panel.

Meanwhile, the report said Missouri’s Fort Bellefontaine facility had no reports of victimization and “does not have a PREA coordinator, a written PREA-specific policy, an orientation on sexual victimization for residents, or specific policies on dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault.” 

It will be interesting to see, once the PREA standards are finalized, what juvenile systems will be required to do and how the feds will penalize them if they don’t. We’ve heard that barely any money was set aside to help juvenile facilities implement PREA, and this panel is suggesting that PREA monitoring might not be the best way to protect against the type of victimization that occurs in juvenile facilities anyway.

The other theme is that the panel is clearly interested in finding out more about the prevalence of female staff-male ward relationships than the BJS survey indicates. From page 41 of the report:

One of the most striking outcomes of the BJS Juvenile Report is its identification of the relatively high incidence of female staff having inappropriate sexual encounters with male youth offenders. Without further study of this phenomenon, juvenile correction administrators speculate on the underlying dynamics that led to this result. In the absence of additional research, the Panel has heard two competing narratives that try to make sense of the data. One narrative is that sophisticated older youth manipulate young, vulnerable female staff into emotional relationships that evolve into sexual ones. The other narrative is that female staff members who are unable for a variety of reasons to build satisfying personal relationships with men gravitate, by design or by default, to juvenile facilities, where they find young men who are only too ready under the circumstances to enter into relationships with them that have a sexual component.

Interesting. Out two cents: Not sure those narratives are necessarily competing. It’s completely possible that some female staff members are wooed by older inmates, and others initiate the relationships.

PREA issues aside, this seems like a subject that begs for a best practices report, so states can learn from the systems and facilities that have a very low rate of sexual victimization incidents. And that hypothetical report should likely include case studies from facilities of varying sizes.

***Speaking of facilities, this week brought a few major developments at the state level:

-The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has proposed the closure of its Preston facility, the most remote of its juvenile prisons. As recently as 2005, the department oversaw eight facilities and 10,000 juvenile inmates. If Preston shuts down, the total will be four facilities and 1,300 inmates. Staggering. Closure of Preston will not be a lock though: News10.net writer George Warren reported that local and state representatives will fight to keep one of the largest employers in Amador County.

-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is on board with the state’s move from large juvenile facilities towards Missouri’s approach of small, local rehabilitative facilities. But it appears that someone forgot to broach the subject of reform with some key leaders in the legislature.

Advocate Capitol News bureau reporter Michelle Millhollon does an excellent job here covering this week’s meeting of the Louisiana Bond Commission, which did not reject but did table Jindal’s proposal to build a $25 million facility, which would be the first in a series of new ones that would replace buildings like Jetson, a juvenile prison that once housed 600 youths.

Millhollon paraphrases toward the end that Louisiana House Speaker Jim Tucker “said the Jindal administration is making a critical policy change that needs to be reviewed by lawmakers.”

How is Tucker, the House speaker and a member of the commission that blesses borrowing for construction, just finding out about the state’s plan to reform the juvenile justice system? He gets part of the blame there, since it has been well-publicized by advocates and covered by the state newspapers. But either he’s doing a bit of acting here, or JJ reformers did not cover all their bases.

-The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a federal lawsuit against the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) over conditions at Thompson Academy, which is run by a Sarasota company called Youth Services International. DJJ pays YSI $74 million a year to operate Thompson and seven other facilities. YSI also operates in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Rhode Island, according to its website.

The lawsuit stems from alleged sexual abuse and physical abuse of two lead plaintiffs.