More Thoughts on the Sexual Victimization Survey

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) has just released its first-ever nationwide survey of youth about sexual victimization in juvenile facilities, which was conducted by private company Westat between June of 2008 and April of 2009. Not surprisingly, there are some alarming (although not entirely surprising) results.

We covered some of this in an article, which you can read here, but here are a few more thoughts on the survey.

*Three private facilities refused to administer the survey to youth; their names are buried toward the back of the survey, but we will happily name them here right at the top of this piece:

Glen Mills School, Glen Mills, Pa.

Northwestern Academy, Coal Township, Pa.

Gulf Coast Trade Center, New Waverly, Texas.

Both of the Pennsylvania facilities are among the places where disgraced Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella sent youth after he ran roughshod over their rights in court.

What possible reason could you have for refusing to cooperate with this survey?

*The report is already stirring action. The Justice Department’s Review Panel on Prison Rape will hold hearings on the BJS report, according to a DOJ press release, and the Office of Juvenile Justice will fund a National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Youth in Custody. OJJDP will also conduct a listening session with juvenile corrections leaders about the study, and partner with the National Institute of Corrections to develop some training resources on the subject of sexual victimization.

Past that, it would not be surprising to see more states pressured into paying for on-site independent monitors who could check on victimization. That could come in the form of a broader ombudsman’s office like the one in Texas, which was created as part of the state’s JJ reform in 2007. The existence of that office did not, however, stop a number of Texas facilities from posting pretty high victimization rates.

*Of the youth who reported incidences of victimization, 80 percent reported that no physical injury resulted from said incident. That figure may prove to be one of the key findings, based on what Dana Shoenberg, senior staff attorney for the Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP), told us. Current rules require anyone who wants to litigate around the issue of prison conditions to demonstrate physical injury, Shoenberg said. And in this case, the threat of force or bribes of protection or drugs leave no physical bruises, even though the acts are considered victimization.

CCLP and other JJ advocacy organizations have pushed for removal of the physical injury requirement, and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va) has a bill in the hopper now that would do just that.

*Because the report’s appendix provides figures for each facility in which the survey was administered, JJ Today predicts that will lead to a whole lot of news coverage about the facilities with high rates, and zero stories about the facilities that demonstrated low levels of reported victimization (and there are a lot in that category). We will try and follow up with some facility administrators whose wards reported low rates of victimization in an attempt to learn what, if anything, they are doing that others are not.

*The amount of inappropriate sexual activity involving female guards and male inmates – of the approximately 2,730 youth engaged in sexual activity with staff, 92 percent were male wards who had engaged in sexual activity with a female staff member – is surprising, because it’s not the image most people have when they think of sexual misconduct in prison.

On the other hand, facility administrators are well aware that it is the most frequent arrangement, according to Michael Dempsey, who is now director of the Division of Youth Services for the Indiana Department of Corrections. Last year Dempsey was superintendent of Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility. Pendleton is one of 13 facilities identified in the report as having the highest rates of reported victimization.

“It typically starts out as a mothering type of relationship,” Dempsey said. “They feel something for the kid, pay more attention to him. And it evolves from that.”

*Female juveniles report a slightly higher rate of victimization than males (14 percent compared with 12.6 percent). What’s interesting is, they report far higher rates of youth-on-youth victimization than males (11 percent versus 2 percent) and far less victimization from staff (5 percent versus 11.3 percent).

*The survey has nothing to do with pure detention centers; it was given almost entirely

to youth who have been sentenced to confinement by a judge. If 25 percent or more of a facility’s wards were pre-adjudicated youth, it was excluded from the survey. So the extent to which victimization occurs at facilities geared toward short-term stays is yet to be quantified.





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