State to target jailers involved in sex assaults on juvenile detainees

A day after the release of a damning federal report on sexual interactions between detained juveniles and their jailers, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice said it would try to cull “significant data” from the findings to identify the encounters teenage inmates relayed anonymously in the survey.

“We’re truly concerned to hear these allegations of sexual misconduct coming from juvenile residents who responded to the survey last year,” Commissioner Avery Niles said in a news release issued Friday afternoon.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice released its second report on the prevalence of unwanted sexual encounters inside facilities that hold juvenile offenders. The author of the report, Allen Beck, said most of the cases involved young female staffers and teenage boys in custody.

Georgia was one of four states with the highest percentages of teenage inmates reporting they had been victimized sexually. The regional youth detention center in Paulding County, which holds juveniles before their cases have been to court, topped the list of individual facilities with 32.1 percent of the teenagers surveyed last year reporting encounters either with staff or other juveniles.

Three Georgia youth development campuses, which are akin to an adult prison, were also among the 13 worst cited in the report— the Augusta YDC, Eastman YDC in Dodge County and Sumter YDC in Americus. Each of them reported a rate of at least 20.8 percent.

The national rate was 9.5 percent.

Federal researchers found that 15.8 percent of the 497 juveniles in Georgia’s criminal justice system who were surveyed had had a sexual encounter with a staff member, which is a felony even if it is deemed consensual. Just at the four Georgia facilities cited among the worst in the nation, nearly 300 boys reported sexual abuse last year.

A 2003 federal law — the Prison Rape Elimination Act — requires the Justice Department to produce an annual report on sexual assaults inside the nation’s prisons. The study released Thursday was the second one focused on juvenile facilities.

Beck, the author of the federal report, said researchers would next try to determine why some states had far more reports of sexual abuse than others.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice suggested, however, that Georgia’s numbers were high because the agency had encouraged juvenile offenders to report their experiences in the survey.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy in Georgia,” Niles said.

Niles said he would ask his department’s advisory committee on the federal law to determine why such a high percentage of juveniles in Georgia’s institutions reported inappropriate sexual contact with staff.

“Even though the report is based on anonymous surveys,” Niles said, “I want the committee to analyze the report for any significant data (that) could help lead to arrests and convictions for staff sexual misconduct.”