BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A new report from the U.S. Department of Justice shows that youths are sexually abused more frequently in juvenile detention centers that are understaffed, have more gang violence and more offender complaints.
The report, released Tuesday by the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, examined the impact juvenile facilities have on sex abuse rates as well as the risk factors for victims. The work was intended in part to measure how effective federal rules designed to stop sex abuse behind bars actually are at reducing victimization inside youth detention centers.
The study found that lower rates of sexual victimization were reported in facilities with higher staffing levels, less violence and fewer overall complaints.
Lovisa Stannow, the executive director of prisoner advocacy group Just Detention International, said the findings are encouraging and exasperating.
“They are encouraging because they confirm that sexual abuse is a problem that strong youth detention leaders can solve, if they want to, and exasperating because so many leaders continue to insist, against all evidence, that sexual violence is outside of their control,” Stannow said in a statement released Wednesday.
Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003, and experts across the country worked over the next decade to create rules designed to stamp out rape behind bars. All states were supposed to be fully compliant with PREA in 2014, but some, such as Idaho, initially refused to meet the standards. Idaho officials later reversed course, and in 2015 announced that three state juvenile detention centers passed audits showing they were compliant with PREA standards.
The Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections is currently facing several lawsuits from nearly a dozen current and former juveniles who say they were sexually abused by staffers while at a detention center in Nampa.
Compliance with many of the standards spelled out in the Prison Rape Elimination Act were associated with lower rates of staff sexual misconduct, the study found.
Youth who have previously been sexually assaulted are more likely to be assaulted in detention, the study found, as were kids who identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Males and black youth were much more likely to be victims of sexual abuse by staff members.
The study included mostly state-owned facilities for youth being held in custody, including residential treatment centers, detention centers, training schools, group homes, boot camp or farm programs and youth homeless shelters.
The highest rates of youth-on-youth sexual assault were found in facilities that only housed females, and male-only facilities tended to have higher rates of staff sexual misconduct.