Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery D. Niles ordered his staff Friday to investigate the prevalence of sexual misconduct in the department’s facilities. It comes after a federal report named Georgia as having one of the worst rates in the country for youth inmate sexual abuse.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released the report Thursday, which showed nationwide the rate of sexual victimization of juvenile offenders had fallen since 2008.
“That drop went from about 12.5 percent to around 10 percent,” explained Allen J. Beck, the Senior Statistical Advisor at the Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Almost all of that drop was attributable to a decline in staff sexual misconduct being reported by the youth.”
The 2012 report, however, ranked Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center in Dallas as having the highest percentage of sexually victimized youth and all of it was linked to staff members, not other juvenile offenders. The center had a 32.1 percent rate of sexual victimization, which is more than three times the national rate.
Beck said the bureau surveyed juvenile offenders anonymously. Researchers threw out any responses that contained “extreme or inconsistent response patterns.”
Georgia facilities accounted for four of the 13 worst in the country based on the sexual victimization rate. The Eastman Youth Development Campus, the Augusta Youth Development Campus, the Sumter Youth Development Campus and the Paulding center were all characterized as “high-rate.”
“Even though the report is based on anonymous surveys, I want the committee to analyze the report for any significant data which could help lead to arrests and convictions for staff sexual misconduct,” Commissioner Niles said in a news release.
This report comes at a significant time for Georgia’s juvenile justice program. Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year to overhaul the system. The reform law will go into effect January 1, 2014 and was designed to reduce the number of youth offenders in detention centers.
Beck said that follows a national trend and could help lead to lower sexual abuse rates. He explained that the larger the facility and the longer a youth offender spends there, the more likely that youth is to become a victim.
“Those two things combined--smaller facilities and kids who are staying less time--result in a likely drop in the risk of sexual victimization,” explained Beck. “So I think these are very good trends in state operated facilities across the land.”