Ohio’s juvenile prisoners report highest rate of sexual victimization in nation

  • Randy Ludlow
  • December 12, 2019
  • The Columbus Dispatch

More than one in six juvenile prisoners in Ohio reported being forced or coerced into sexual activity with other prisoners or with prison staff members, according to a nationwide survey. State officials say they have upgraded detention centers and increased supervision to help reduce sexual victimization of juvenile offenders.

Ohio’s juvenile detention system continues to rank as the worst in the nation in the percentage of youthful offenders who report being sexually victimized

A nationwide U.S. Department of Justice survey of 6,049 juvenile prisoners, released Wednesday, found 15.3% of incarcerated youth in Ohio reported forced or coerced sexual activity with other youth or staff members in 2018.

Ohio’s rate was more than twice the national 7.1% rate of sexual victimization, but the state’s 15.3% figure declined from the 17.1% rate recorded in a similar federal survey in 2012 when it again ranked the highest.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics study classified the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility, south of Columbus, as a “high-rate facility” (second highest in the U.S.) with 16.7% of surveyed offenders reporting sexual abuse as compared to 28.8% in 2012.

The Ohio Department of Youth Services, which houses about 530 offenders age 10 to 21 convicted of juvenile crimes, said it has physically upgraded its detention centers and increased supervision of youth in a bid to reduce sexual abuse.

“No sexual victimization of youth is ever acceptable, but we are encouraged by the significant reduction in reported instances since 2012,” said spokeswoman Jill Craig.

Only one-third of the youth facilities surveyed were included in the report due to a lack of responses from youth, so “we don’t know that Ohio is actually the highest … that said, we always strive for zero percent,” Craig said.

Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, a group that monitors in-custody sexual abuse, said Ohio has not done enough to protect juveniles from sexual predators.

“It is painfully clear that Ohio is failing the children it takes into custody,” she said. “DYS should have taken steps years ago to fix the problem of sexual abuse in its facilities — but it didn’t. Where is the leadership? The problem is way out of control. How many more kids have to suffer before the department does something to stop it?”

Of the youthful offenders surveyed at the Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility near Massillon, 8.8% reported they had been sexually victimized, roughly the same figure as the 9.5% rate from the 2012 survey. A total of 140 Ohio offenders participated in last year’s survey.

Facility-specific figures from the only other DYS-operated facility, the Cuyahoga Hills Juvenile Correctional Facility, were not listed due to sampling concerns.

Nationally, the youth offender sexual victimization rate fell from 9.5 percentage points from 2012 to 7.1% last year.

Craig of the Department of Youth Services said officials are confident sexual abuse has declined in state facilities since the federal survey was conducted.

New housing units opened in Circleville in May increased security by decreasing the number of youth housed together from 24 to 12, which increased staff supervision, she said. Each youth also now has a private bathroom instead of shared showers.

At Indian River, bathroom renovations this year created three single, private shower and toilet units in each living unit and both facilities have increased surveillance technology to monitor youth, she said.

The Dispatch was awaiting figures from the agency on the number of sexual assaults recorded in its juvenile detention centers in the past couple of years.

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