ATHENS, Ga. — The Department of Juvenile Justice fired a correctional officer Thursday for having an inappropriate relationship with a teen from Athens at the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center.
Ardith Brown’s dismissal was the latest in a sweeping series of personnel actions meant to enforce safety and security reforms within juvenile facilities, Juvenile Justice Commissioner Gale Buckner said in a news release.
“As a result of those surprise inspections, the majority of our juvenile corrections officers throughout the system have become more diligent in monitoring youth activity at our facilities,” Buckner said. “That’s how this current misconduct allegation came to light.
“As we had hoped, all these security sweeps and facility inspections have already made a positive impact on most corrections officers throughout our secure campuses.”
Although DJJ spokesman Jim Shuler would not specify the nature of the inappropriate relationship in Gainesville, a woman told the Athens Banner-Herald on Monday that the 14-year-old inmate was a relative from Athens and that a corrections officer caught Brown having sex with the boy late last week.
DJJ officials began surprise inspections at juvenile detention facilities across the state in November, immediately after Buckner was appointed commissioner.
The inspections began at the Augusta Youth Development Campus, where a teen was killed the day Buckner was appointed.
An investigation is under way, involving DJJ officials and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and several employees of the Augusta facility – including corrections officers and a program director – have been fired for violations such as physically abusing juvenile inmates and smuggling contraband into the facility.
The Gainesville RYDC was the first secure facility to go under the DJJ microscope as inspection teams took their crackdown statewide. Twenty-seven DJJ secure facilities have undergone the same scrutiny over a recent seven-week period, Buckner said in Thursday’s announcement.
The commissioner emphasized that employees who have been fired or disciplined are not representative of the department as a whole.
“Our DJJ professionals work round the clock and around the state to protect the public while serving the needs of our troubled (youths),” Buckner said. “We’ve wasted no time taking these administrative actions wherever they’re needed to remove policy violators from positions of responsibility over Georgia’s (youths) in detention.”