ATLANTA — The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice has a new investigative tool: a Web site where people can report suspicious activities at the state’s youth detention centers and court-services offices.
Anonymous tips are accepted, but the agency promised Thursday that the names of sources will be kept confidential.
Juvenile Justice Commissioner L. Gale Buckner shook up the office’s organizational structure last month and is making surprise inspections of facilities and court-services offices. She’s also revising policies.
Agency spokesman Jim Shuler said the reforms aren’t directly related to problems at the department’s detention center in Augusta, which came to a head as Buckner assumed her post last fall. Eleven employees, including the director, were fired, quit or demoted after the investigation of a teen who died at the facility. The investigation turned up sexual misconduct, physical abuse and help smuggling contraband by guards.
Inspections that followed at 26 other facilities across the state revealed similar violations.
“Investigators say having a tip line like this already in place during the recent high profile investigation at the Augusta facility last November could have been extremely helpful to bring more leads in to investigators and bring them in faster …” Shuler said.
He said analysts in the department’s new intelligence unit have already received useful information through the Web site.
Anonymous tips can be a critical component in ridding facilities of bad leaders, according to Mark Jones, an expert on prisons at East Carolina University.
“The typical juvenile detention center is small enough that most or all of the staff and leadership should have a good idea of what is going on, yet no one speaks up, probably because some of them are in compromised positions due to their own misconduct, and probably because an atmosphere may exist where the honest staff workers hold less power than the unscrupulous ones,” he said.