The Augusta Youth Development Center was one of four Georgia youth lockups with the most instances of inmates being victimized sexually, according to a federal report released this week.
“We are truly concerned to hear these allegations of sexual misconduct coming from juvenile residents who responded to the survey last year,” Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles said in a news release Friday.
Twenty percent of residents reported assaults at Augusta’s YDC.
The findings made public Thursday are the latest criticism of the Augusta facility, which attracted notice in November 2011 when 17-year-old Jade Holder was killed in his cell by another youth.
In October, Michael Everidge was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the crime. Also in October, five youths escaped the facility, stole a car and led police on a two-day chase to Atlanta. Throughout 2012, the facility continued to announce decisions to fire, move or demote more than a dozen employees, citing policy violations ranging from smuggling phones to inappropriate relationships with youths.
This week’s federal report surveyed inmates at 273 state-owned or -operated juvenile facilities and 53 locally or privately operated facilities that held adjudicated youths under a state contract.
The surveys, conducted over seven months in 2012, concluded that an estimated 9.5 percent of youths reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual victimization, either by another youth or by a staffer in the previous 12 months. That’s a drop from 12.6 percent in 2008-09, when the survey was first conducted.
Thirteen facilities were identified as high-ranking offenders. In each, the rate was at least 35 percent higher than the national average. Four states – Georgia, South Carolina, Illinois and Ohio – had similarly high rates versus the national average.
Georgia’s Paulding Regional Detention Center was the highest rated facility for sexual victimization, with 32 percent of the surveyed youths claiming sexual assault.
“The rates in Georgia leapt off the page for sure,” Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, a spokesman for Just Detention International, an organization that fights sexual abuse in detention facilities, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It is shocking.”
The Department of Justice defined sexual victimization as any “unwanted sexual activity between youth and all sexual activity between youth and staff.”
Niles has ordered a review of the facts behind the state’s ranking by the Prison Rape Elimination Act Advisory Committee. If the committee presents actionable findings, he plans to assign the case to a special internal affairs investigator for possible prosecution.
“Even though the report is based on anonymous surveys, I want the committee to analyze the report for any significant data which could help lead to arrests and convictions for staff sexual misconduct,” Niles said.
According to a news release, he said he was not surprised to see an increased number of survey responses from Georgia youths this year because the state has launched one of the “most proactive youth education PREA programs in the country” to teach its youths in custody how to stay alert and report abuse.
“We want them to know it’s OK to break the silence,” Niles said. “We want them to speak up, speak out and say ‘no’ to sexual abuse.”
As part of PREA, youths will receive fliers and safety guides within 24 hours of intake. They are required to watch a PREA orientation message and sign an acknowledgement statement.
The Department of Juvenile Justice initiated a tip line to provide youths, staffers and the public a way to make reports. In March 2012, it hired its first statewide PREA coordinator.
“The DOJ (Department of Justice) National Survey of Youth in Custody reminds us why we have invested so much effort in solutions to correct these challenges and to ensure a sexually safe environment for our youth in the care and custody of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice,” Niles said in the release.
According to that study, the Augusta facility had a response rate of 82 percent, with about 50 youths participating in the study. About 20 percent of the local respondents reported staff sexual misconduct. No reports of youth-on-youth misconduct were reported.
Associated Press reports were used in this article.