Jon Ossoff launches probe of alleged Georgia juvenile detention abuses

Questions posed to federal Government Accountability Office follow AJC reporting about alleged problems in Georgia juvenile justice system
The probe will center on juvenile detention facilities in Georgia and across the country.

The probe will center on juvenile detention facilities in Georgia and across the country.

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff is probing a Congressional watchdog agency for information about alleged abuse of youth in juvenile detention facilities, following reports from The Atlanta-Journal Constitution that examined deaths and alleged abuses within the system.

“State and local governments have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of juveniles in such facilities, however, the federal government also plays an important role,” said Ossoff, a Democrat representing Georgia, in a letter sent earlier this month to U.S. Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro, who leads the Government Accountability Office. Ossoff chairs the U.S. Senate Human Rights Subcommittee.

The letter cites reports from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that uncovered problems in the state’s juvenile justice system, as well as an investigation from The New York Times that examined allegations of mistreatment at a Louisiana detention facility. In 2022, the AJC uncovered that three teenagers died in Georgia juvenile detention facilities within just a few weeks. Their deaths raised concerns about the state’s juvenile justice department, which supervises and rehabilitates youth offenders.

In 2019, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution conducted a year-long investigation into failings within the state’s juvenile justice system. Georgia recorded more than 3,400 physical assaults by inmates on other juveniles from 2015 through 2018, and at least 150 instances where youths were sexually assaulted by other prisoners.

What’s more, a state audit from 2023 found that incidents in juvenile facilities are going unreported, youth aren’t always disciplined equitably, and some are spending longer stretches of time in isolation. At the time, state Department of Juvenile Justice officials said they would work to implement changes.

In the letter, Ossoff sent a series of questions to the Government Accountability Office, which serves as a government watchdog for Congress. The GAO conducts audits and investigations of government activity and analyzes the effectiveness of government programs. Ossoff said he wants to better understand the federal government’s role in overseeing these facilities. He asked for GAO to look at oversight mechanisms that are in place to ensure the safety and well-being of children in state, local and private juvenile facilities, the circumstances surrounding instances where youth have been mistreated in juvenile facilities nationwide, and whether oversight mechanisms identified mistreatment and resulted in corrective action.

He also requested more information on the primary challenges that juvenile facilities face that put detainees at risk for harm.

Georgia’s Department of Juvenile Justice declined to comment.

Ossoff has launched a number of inquiries since taking over as the chair of the U.S. Senate Human Rights Subcommittee in early 2023: one investigation into the foster care system has resulted in several hearings. As part of that probe, the subcommittee obtained an internal audit performed by Georgia’s child welfare agency in 2023, which they say found that while the state agency largely initiated investigations in a timely manner, it also failed to assess and address risks and safety concerns in 84% of the 100 cases that were reviewed. Lawyers for Georgia’s child welfare agency later sent a scathing letter to Ossoff, calling the investigation he’s leading a “political” endeavor, and responded to several points raised during testimony.

Other inquiries launched by Ossoff include: one that examines oversight of jails and prisons, another that probes the FBI’s ability to investigate crimes involving child sexual abuse and exploitation, among others.