Friday, June 7, 2013

Report: Paulding County juvenile jail leads nation in sexual assaults

Posted By on Fri, Jun 7, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Kids and teens spending time in one of metro Atlanta's juvenile lockups have nearly a one in three chance of being victimized sexually, according to a federal report released yesterday. Paulding County's Regional Youth Detention Center, or RYDC, led the nation with 32 percent of kids surveyed randomly last year reporting sexual abuse by a staff member.

While the survey looked at youth-on-youth and staff-on-youth sexual misconduct, all of the reported cases in Paulding's state-run facility involved staff members. Statewide, researchers found that, of the nearly 500 juveniles surveyed, about 16 percent reported sexual contact with a staff member.

Three other Georgia facilities also ranked among the worst in the nation, according to the report. Kids doing time in Eastman Youth Development Campus, Sumter YDC, and Augusta YDC - all long-term facilities - had more than a 20 percent chance of experiencing some sort of sexual contact while incarcerated, at least double the national rate. About 10 percent of kids surveyed around the country reported sexual abuse while serving sentences in state-run juvenile facilities.

The head of Georgia's Department of Juvenile Justice said some steps have already been taken to address the issues, like repositioning surveillance cameras to monitor blind spots in some facilities.

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles
  • Courtesy DJJ
  • Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles
"Through education and awareness, Georgia is building a new 'reporting culture' among our youth in custody so our residents won't be intimidated about seeking help if they should ever encounter these types of abuses, whether it's inside or outside our secure facilities," DJJ commissioner Avery Niles said in a release. "We want them to know it's OK to break the silence. We want them to speak up, speak out, and say 'NO' to sexual abuse."

The Paulding County RYDC led the state and nation in percentages, but the actual number of sexual assaults at some other Georgia facilities was higher. Of the 29 surveyed, nine kids reported incidents of sexual abuse in Paulding, a short-term detention center that can hold up to 100 boys and girls. Eastman YDC, a longer-term facility that can house more than 300 boys, had the highest number of incidents with 28 of the 116 teens polled reporting sexual misconduct, according to a lead author of the report.

Both Eastman and Augusta YDC have hit turbulent waters in recent years. In 2011, county police had to be called in to quell a riot at Eastman YDC. That same year, a 19-year-old died in Augusta YDC following a fight with another inmate. His death and other factors raised questions of safety and led to a number of changes at that facility over the following year, including the replacement of the director and a handful of guards.

The fed's report comes at a time when Georgia is revamping some aspects of its juvenile justice system, including providing more funding to pay for community-based alternatives aimed at keeping more kids out of jail. Similar programs have shown more positive results than sentencing young offenders to lockup in other states. It will take effect in Georgia at the beginning of 2014.

Seventeen of Georgia's 27 youth detention facilities took part in the 2012 survey. Read the full report.

Paulding County's RYDC acting director could not immediately be reached. Additional information is expected from Georgia's DJJ later this afternoon. Check back for updates.

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