Ga. suspends 19 juvenile justice workers, supervisor

DECATUR, Ga. — Nineteen Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice investigators and the chief of investigations were suspended with pay Thursday while authorities investigate juvenile inmates’ claims of sexual abuse at state detention centers.

The four Georgia facilities were the Augusta YDC in Richmond County; a regional youth detention center in Paulding County; the Eastman Youth Development Campus in Dodge County; and the Sumter YDC in Americus.

The department’s employees were suspended Thursday in the wake of a U.S. Department of Justice report that listed four of the state’s detention centers as among the worst in the country in terms of alleged sexual abuse of detainees.

Commissioner Avery Niles suspended the employees upon learning that investigations into 20 cases of alleged abuse remain unresolved. Internal investigations are supposed to be concluded within 45 days and the unresolved cases were in 2012, state juvenile justice spokesman Jim Shuler said.

Niles has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state Department of Corrections to conduct an independent audit of the agency. The commissioner also announced that he’s hired a new chief investigator, Ricky Rich, to perform a thorough reorganization of the department’s investigations division.

“This alleged failure of accountability is the last thing we expected to find among an experienced and dedicated staff at DJJ,” Niles said in a statement. “It is a disturbing breach of confidence and fundamentally unacceptable. These investigators have a duty to protect our youth and employees and to uphold the most basic standards of professional behavior,” he said.

The results of the 2012 National Survey of Youth in Custody included four Georgia juvenile detention centers among a list of 13 with the highest rates of alleged sexual misconduct nationally. The data, released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, was based on anonymous surveys completed by 8,707 youth randomly sampled from at least one facility in every state and the District of Columbia.

The Paulding County facility led the nation with 32.1 percent of youth inmates reporting last year that they were victimized sexually by staff or other juveniles. That was more than three times the national rate of 9.5 percent.

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