Sex-abuse survey finds high rate at teen lockup in Arkansas

  • Tony Holt
  • December 16, 2019
  • Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A juvenile detention center in Arkansas has one of the highest rates of sexual abuse of any teen lockup in a nationwide survey — a distinction it also held the last time the same survey was conducted six years ago.

The Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center, a 100-bed detention facility located near Alexander, had the sixth-highest percentage of respondents — 14.3% — who confirmed they had been sexually abused, the report stated.

The latest survey was distributed last year, and the results were released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

A similar study was released in 2013, and at that time the Alexander facility was found to have had a 23.2% rate of sexual victimization. The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, which published the report, has found that sex abuse in youth detention has decreased significantly during the past six years.

The key to detecting, addressing and ultimately eliminating sexual abuse inside any detention facility is communication, said Marci Manley, a spokeswoman with the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

“Over the past year, we have had major transformations under way to ensure [we] have more in-person communication with youth, which not only helps ensure that people are routinely visiting the centers and the youth, but also helps build trust that hopefully will help the youth feel comfortable enough to tell us when issues arise,” Manley said.

The report, Sexual Victimization Reported by Youth in Juvenile Facilities, was based on survey results that were submitted anonymously by more than 6,000 youths in detention facilities across the country.

A total of 162 Arkansas youths responded to the nationwide survey. Of those 162 respondents, 9.8% reported sexual abuse. Only Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa and Texas had higher rates, according to the survey.

In all, 327 facilities were identified by the bureau. A total of 113 facilities were said to have had a “sufficient number of completed interviews” from which to calculate. Out of those facilities, a total of 12 had sexual-victimization rates that could be identified as high, the report stated.

According to Just Detention International, the latest report was the third anonymous nationwide survey conducted by the bureau, but it was the first after the implementation of Prison Rape Elimination Act standards, which require adult and youth detention employees to take specific safety measures.

Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, a spokeswoman with Just Detention International, stated in a news release that the bureau “regrettably” is withholding key findings. Most notably, the report lacks “analysis on the rates of abuse facing LGBT youth and youth with a history of sexual victimization,” which Lerner-Kinglake identified as groups that have historically been victimized at “very high rates.”

The overall rate of sexual victimization reported by youths declined from 9.5% in 2012 to 7.1% in 2018, according to the report. The report also stated that 5.8% of youths reported sexual misconduct by facility staff members, and an estimated 2.1% of youths reported sexual misconduct by facility staff members that involved force or coercion. By comparison, 1.9% of youths reported sexual victimization by another youth that involved force or coercion, according to the report.

Manley said the Division of Youth Services is expanding its internal affairs team to allow for quicker responses and investigations whenever issues are reported statewide. She also said monitoring teams and inspection-of-care visits are being done “outside the division” to provide “additional layers of monitoring and protection.”

The Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center is managed by Rite of Passage, which is based in Minden, Nev. The company initially was awarded a contract to run other juvenile lockups in Arkansas earlier this year, but it was disqualified after state officials discovered problems with one of its centers in Colorado. Youth Opportunity Investments, based in Carmel, Ind., was subsequently awarded the contract for the state’s other facilities.

A spokesman with Rite of Passage did not return a message seeking comment Friday. Manley said the company has implemented a “comprehensive sexual contact prevention program” and operates with a “zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual assault and harassment.”

Originally posted here