Lawmakers, Advocacy Groups To Hold Hearings On Sexual Abuse in IL Juvenile Dention Centers

By aaroncynic in News on Jul 29, 2013 7:30PM

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Photo credit: Seth Anderson

On Tuesday, the Restorative Justice Committee will hold a hearing with representatives from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, prison watchdog group the John Howard Association of Illinois and others to discuss sexual abuse inside Illinois’ juvenile detention facilities. A recent report from the BJS revealed Illinois is among one of four states that have the highest rates of sexual victimization in juvenile facilities.

According to the report, the rate of victimization in Illinois exceeds 15 percent due to high rates of sexual misconduct by staff. State Rep. La Shawn Ford told Progress Illinois “We want answers from the results of the study, and solutions moving forward.”

Among the top ten nationally in the report was the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet, closed by Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this year in a round of budget cuts. The report showed 21.1 percent of youth surveyed said they were victims of an incident involving sexual abuse. The BJS study shows an estimated 9.5 percent of youth in detention facilities nationwide reported experiencing sexual victimization of some kind.

In a recent Crain’s op-ed, John Maki, executive director of the John Howard Association wrote:

“Rape and other kinds of sexual misconduct are a serious problem in our nation's prisons, and that includes prisons holding only youths. It happens often enough that Congress has enacted laws requiring safety measures in local jails and prisons, and it is so common that the U.S. government conducts nationwide surveys asking kids for details.”

Maki suggests the state create an independent office with inspector general or ombudsman that would investigate youth facilities and provide regular reports to the legislature and Governor’s office. According to WBEZ, state legislators rejected such an office in 2006. Retired Judge George Timberlake, head of the Illinois Commission on Juvenile Justice said:

“When we created the Department of Juvenile Justice one of the fundamental ideas was an ombudsman, and that didn’t happen. So that’s something that can be almost immediately created.”

Ford suggested prison guards receive more education and training, but state Rep. Mary Flowers said that wouldn’t be enough without monitoring programs, “It’s against the law to rape a child. What type of education is required to understand that?” Flowers asked.

A group of activists with an organization called Project NIA plan to hold a vigil beginning at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday outside the Bilandic Building, where the hearing will take place. In a statement, the group said: “We will stand silently in front of the building where the hearing is being held to show our solidarity with incarcerated youth, to express our disgust at their treatment, and to demand that juvenile prisons ultimately be shut down.”