Georgia Suspends 20 Juvenile Justice Investigators

Georgia DJJ Commissioner Avery Niles

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery D. Niles announced Thursday the suspension with pay of 20 DJJ investigators, including the Office of Investigation’s former chief investigator. The disciplinary actions come in the wake of a scathing report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics showing Georgia’s juvenile detention facilities had among the highest rates of sexual abuse reports in the country, which prompted Niles to assign an advisory committee to look into the matter.

In a press release, Niles said the advisory committee found more than 20 internal sexual abuse investigations from last year remained open longer than DJJ policy allowed. As a result, Niles said, he ordered the investigators’ suspensions “pending an investigation into alleged failure to carry out their assigned duties in a timely manner,” which Niles described as “a disturbing breach of confidence and fundamentally unacceptable.”

Niles continued: “These investigators have a duty to protect our youth and employees and to uphold the most basic standards of professional behavior,” .

According to Niles, the suspensions were necessary before the DJJ could continue its full investigation. “We had to take these immediate corrective actions to ensure all reports of sexual abuse and harassment are thoroughly investigated according to DJJ policy and state and federal law,” he said.

He also announced that the DJJ will be reaching out to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Department of Corrections for independent investigations of the sexual misconduct allegations. A “comprehensive, top-to-bottom reorganization of the Office of Investigations” is also forthcoming, Niles added.

“I gave clear warning when I was appointed Commissioner that serious violations of policy will not be tolerated in our professional juvenile justice workplace,” he said. “At the Department of Juvenile Justice, staff members who violate positions of trust and responsibility will continue to face severe consequences, regardless of time on the job, employee rank or position in this agency.”



The Power Grab and Prison Sexual Abuse

It’s an optimistic headline: “Prison Rape: Obama’s Program to Stop It”. It leads into a comprehensive New York Review of Books article on three recently released Federal government publications.  Two of these documents examine sexual abuse in the nation’s detention centers while the other outlines the Department of Justice’s regulations for eliminating prison rape. All three aim to address the appalling number of people—young and old, female and male, citizen and those awaiting deportation— who  routinely suffer sexual violence while in lockup, an estimated 209,000 plus every year according to the Justice Department.

So where’s the optimism? The guidelines established by the Obama administration are—on paper, at least—good ones. As the reviewers David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow (both staunch advocates for victims of prison sexual assault) note, the new recommendations address pivotal issues: how detention centers are staffed, how those staffs are trained in sexual abuse issues, and how inmates are supervised. Equally important is how offenders are evaluated for their potential as either sexual prey or predator. This provision is crucial in protecting young offenders, especially LGBT youth who are in greater danger of sexual harassment and abuse by peers and adult inmates. Once this information is obtained housing can be assigned based on vulnerability, which in the case of minors means not being housed with adults. There are also new standards on how prisoners can report sexual assault and on how that information is handled and investigated by staff. Kaiser and Stannow write that if these standards are successful—“and we believe they will be”—then the incidences of prison rape will be reduced dramatically.

But I can’t share their optimism. I wish I could. My skepticism stems from the way in which these regulations are to be enforced.  Enforcement will be the responsibility of the state departments of corrections and the correctional staff in charge of prisons and jails.

Anyone who has worked in a detention facility knows the power of frontline staff to sabotage whatever standards or procedures are put in place. In my ten years working as a high school teacher in a county prison I’ve watched this culture of obstruction play out as many correctional staff subvert—sometimes blatantly, most times covertly—everything from innovative grant-funded projects designed to reduce recidivism in young offenders to simple routines such as making sure all inmates daily attend their assigned programs, all measures that would provide true “safety and security” for staff as well as inmates and that would further the stated goal of incarceration: rehabilitation.

What’s behind this apparently illogical obstruction? It is the same dynamic that informs so much of what goes on in any detention system; it is certainly the dynamic that is behind all prison sexual violence: the power grab. All lockups whether they be for adults, minors or immigrants awaiting deportation are run on a hierarchy of power: Who’s got it, who wants it and what you’ll do to get it. Within this structure there is the inevitable scramble for power and position in an environment where everyone feels impotent.

People who are locked up live every day of their incarceration with this lack of control (and for so many of them, every day of their lives) and so understandably make the power grab. This is especially true for young offenders who are the most vulnerable in this predatory world. Ironically it is just as pronounced with correctional staff. Over my years in the prison system I’ve often heard officers openly complain that the work they do is just as dangerous, if not more so than other law enforcement officers, yet they feel they are underpaid and not respected as professionals by their peers and society in general. So what better way to “stick it” to the system, to “show” wardens, county executives, the Feds, civilians, and certainly inmates that COs are the ones who make or break things in prison than by subverting regulations, routines, and structures.

The Obama guidelines are strong in addressing the delicate and fraught issue of sexual violence. This is especially true when it comes to the victimization of young people and the sexually vulnerable. Is it wise then to leave their implementation in the hands of the people who are themselves part of the problem both in terms of upholding standards and in terms of actually being sexual assailants themselves? (Reports show that half of all sexual abuse is committed by correctional staff.)

Kaiser and Stannow are confident that enforcement of these regulations “will make American detention facilities better run, more humane, and safer places in general.” It is a hopeful vision. But if we want detention centers that are humane and safe we have to go beyond a fresh set of regulations. We need to make fundamental changes in the prison system: confront the perverted power structure—and struggle—that dominates these institutions and that leads to sexual violence and replace it with a form of justice that truly values rehabilitation and that restores dignity and respect to victim, inmate and correctional staff. Radical steps? Yes. Do we have a choice? The numbers say we don’t—because each incident of prison rape radically changes a person’s life forever.

Ex-Penn State President Faces New Charges in Sandusky Case

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier

Pennsylvania will prosecute former Penn State President Graham Spanier on charges that he helped cover up sex abuse charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the state attorney general announced. She also announced new charges against two Spanier deputies.

“This case is about three powerful and influential men who held positions at the very top of one the most prestigious universities in the nation, three men who used their positions at Penn State to conceal and cover up for years activities of a known child predator,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly at a Harrisburg press conference on Nov. 1.

The state charged Spanier with one count of perjury, two counts of endangering the welfare of children and two counts of criminal conspiracy, all third-degree felonies which are each punishable by up to seven years in prison and $15,000 fines.

He is also being charged with one count each of obstruction and conspiracy, punishable by up to two years in prison and $5,000 in fines. A final charge of failure to report suspected child abuse is punishable by 90 days imprisonment and a $300 fine.

Two of Spanier’s deputies, Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz, will face charges of obstruction, endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy. The two are already awaiting trial on charges of perjury and failure to report suspected abuse.

Spanier was removed as university president in Nov. 2011, just after sex abuse charges were announced against Sandusky. The ex-president has been on sabbatical from his ongoing tenured professorship, according to a university statement, and will be placed on leave from that immediately.

Schultz is the retired Senior Vice President for Finance and Business. Curley is Penn State Athletic Director, though he was placed on administrative leave last year as well. According to the university, he is on a fixed-term contract that will not be renewed when it expires on June 30, 2013.

All three men, as far back as 1998, knew about one sexual assault complaint and in 2001 learned of another, Kelly charged. She said emails, notes and a bill from a lawyer prove the three were discussing the assaults.

All three “repeatedly obstructed attempts by law enforcement and investigators to gather evidence about Sandusky assaults which had occurred on campus,” Kelly said. A 2010 grand jury subpoenaed documents that the university did not turn over until April 2012, “after these men had left their jobs,” she added.

In a videotaped statement, Spanier’s attorney, Tim Lewis, said the charges are “a politically-motivated frame-up of an innocent man.”  Lewis said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is known to be personally hostile to Spanier, accusing the governor of using public resources to pursue a personal grudge. Lewis also attempted to pin cover-up charges onto the governor.  He said Corbett, as attorney general until 2011, knew about the allegations.

“Today’s presentment is the latest desperate act by Governor Tom Corbett to cover up and divert attention away from the fact that he failed to warn [the] Penn State Community about the suspicion surrounding Jerry Sandusky, and instead allowed a child predator to roam free in Pennsylvania.”

Lewis said Kelly and her staff have refused for a year to meet with Spanier or his lawyers; or to allow him another chance in front of the grand jury to “clarify” his testimony.

Lewis said that a 1998 investigation exonerated his client Spanier, and that the 2001 incident was characterized to the president as “horseplay.”

Penn State declined any further comment.

In a related development, the Penn State Board of Trustees on Oct. 26 voted unanimously to create a subcommittee empowered to approve possible settlements with Sandusky’s victims.

Sandusky is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence on 45 counts of child sexual abuse.

Photo by John Tecce via Facebook

Sexual Trauma Marks Girls’ Path to Juvenile Justice System

Crystal Contreras, who served five years in a juvenile justice facility in California, is now studying sociology in college and volunteering with foster kids.

When Crystal Contreras was seven and living in Los Angeles, her mother put her in the care of someone Contreras saw as a father figure. Instead, he pressured the little girl for sex. For the next three years, until she was 10, the man raped her regularly, often creeping into the house at night without her mother’s knowledge.

“I never said nothing to my mom,” Contreras told during an interview in July. “I was scared he would kill her or hurt her or hurt the animals that I had. I felt like I was protecting her. But what I did – I started acting out.”

Contreras, now 21 and in college, completed a five-year term at a juvenile detention facility in California last year, she said. Her history of sexual trauma echoes the stories of tens of thousands of girls who find themselves in the juvenile justice system, a history that advocates and professionals in the field say the states and federal government must take into account when designing rehabilitation programs to meet girls’ needs.

While the number of girls who had contact with the juvenile justice system in 2010 equaled only about 40 percent of the number of boys, girls are more likely to be detained for minor offenses related to their underage status, like truancy or running away, according to a report released Tuesday by the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy. Less than 10 percent of juvenile arrests for violent crimes involved girls, the report said.

“Overall, the juvenile justice system is ill-equipped to serve girls effectively, having failed to implement the reforms called for by a growing body of research on the needs of the girls in its care,” said the report, “Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States.”

Malika Saar, executive director of the Human Rights Project for Girls, told an interagency gathering of federal officials in Washington, D.C., last month that the so-called school-to-prison pipeline applies mainly to boys. For girls, Saar said, the biggest funnel into the prison system is sexual abuse.

Liz Watson, a co-author of the Georgetown report, echoed Saar’s description.

“What really stands out about girls’ particular pathway into the system is that very often, the girls are in the system for things like running away and truancy, and sometimes, being picked up for prostitution, which is really exploitation for these girls,” Watson said. “So the reasons they get into the system are gender bias and exploitation and abuse.”

To add insult to injury, she said, “Once they’re there, girls have harsher penalties than boys for status offenses.”

Acting Asst. Attorney General Mary Lou Leary (left) and Acting Administrator of the OJJDP Melodee Hanes (second to left) listen to testimony from formerly incarcerated women and their advocates about the experience of girls in the juvenile justice system during the quarterly meeting of the federal interagency Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention last month.

Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, 23, testified about her detention experiences in California and Nevada before a federal interagency committee, the Coordinating Council of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in Washington, D.C., in September.

The council, an independent body created under the authority of the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, meets quarterly to coordinate the program efforts of federal government agencies. It includes cabinet members from the departments of Labor, Health, Housing and Urban Development, Education and Homeland Security.

Last month marked the first time since 2000 that the council had met to discuss the issue of girls in the juvenile justice system. The meeting 12 years ago led the U.S. Department of Justice to create the National Girls Study Group, a multi-year research effort into strategies for keeping girls from entering the system, Melodee Hanes, the acting administrator for Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, told the council.

Another outcome of the 2000 meeting was the creation of the National Girls Institute within the federal juvenile justice office in the U.S. Department of Justice, a clearinghouse for research and technical assistance, Hanes said. The institute recently released its own findings from a series of national “listening sessions” with girls in the system, their families and other stakeholders.

Although most cabinet-level members were not present at September’s meeting, their agency representatives listened intently as field professionals and women who had been incarcerated as girls testified about their experiences with the system.

Pettigrew told the council she was trafficked as a minor, coerced into sex and kept captive.

“I was sent to the juvenile justice system for a crime that technically, according to the law, I did not have the ability or consent to commit,” Pettigrew said. “I was a victim of child abuse but I was the one put behind bars.”

Watson calls girls like Pettigrew and Contreras “the walking wounded” who are often re-traumatized in detention. Despite her history of sexual abuse, Pettigrew found herself in a facility with no doors on the showers or the toilets, and male staff members to watch the girls. The lack of doors in showers and toilets comes up regularly in descriptions of facilities by advocates and girls.

Withelma Ortiz Walker Pettigrew (center) speaking about her experience in the juvenile justice system in front of the federal interagency Coordinating Council for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in Washington D.C. last month. She hopes to attend college in D.C.

“Understanding the pathway for girls, and really the history of exploitation and abuse, is key to being able to undertake reform efforts that are really responsive to girls’ needs,” Watson told

The Georgetown report came out of a meeting of experts and professionals last year where, Watson said, few knew of innovations by states other than their own. “It’s extremely important that states that are interested in reforms have the examples of other states to work on so they’re not re-creating the wheel,” Watson said.

The report outlines reform efforts by Connecticut, Florida and one California county, and offers recommendations for the federal government that echo those presented to the coordinating council by Pettigrew and other advocates.

The federal government must fund research and evaluation of girls’ programs, improve the assessment and data collection tools available for girls, and encourage states to develop programs that are geared toward girls’ particular needs and that take into account their history of sexual trauma, trafficking and exploitation, they say.

Back in Los Angeles, Contreras is now taking college sociology courses, working for a major health care organization and volunteering at a program for foster youth. During her last couple of years in detention, she said, she realized she had to take care of herself if she wanted to succeed.

Pettigrew is applying to undergraduate programs and trying to collect funds for college. It’s hard sharing her story in a roomful of people, she said, especially when few share her history. But she needs to do it, she said, so more people can understand what it’s like to be a girl in the system.

Photos by Kaukab Jhumra Smith

Boy Scout Confidential Files Reveal Patterns of Abuse

At the law offices of Gordon, Thomas and Honeywell in downtown Seattle, an entire wall was devoted to files of Boy Scout volunteers who have been kicked out since the 1940s. Paralegal Bob McFadden replaces one of the file boxes. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has come under fire as its “Confidential Files” – a blacklist of adults banned from scouting for sexual abuse or molestation — have come to light. The files, submitted as evidence in lawsuits under court order, show the BSA banned about 5,000 people from 1947 through 2004.

Sexual abuse scandals within other youth-service oriented programs show similar patterns of behavior, including workers dismissing victims, hiding abuse from the public, putting too much faith in adult colleagues and organizations failing to educate staff about abuse.

As the problem becomes more public because of scandals such as the Penn State and Catholic Church child sexual-abuse scandals, it has become more apparent that these patterns of behavior are similar among those who mishandle the problem. For the full story via Youth Today, click here.

Idaho Juvenile Corrections Employees Allege Staffers Had Sex With Incarcerated Youth

Last month, several Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections (IDJC) employees filed a revised whistleblower lawsuit alleging staffers at the Nampa Juvenile Corrections Center had sexual relations with incarcerated youth.

Six additional staffers were added as lawsuit plaintiffs after attorney Andrew Schoppe – who filed the first lawsuit on behalf of seven employees in a U.S. District Court in Boise a week prior – was contacted. The staffers claim that events similar to those alleged in the original complaint have transpired at the detention center, stating that management failed to take action when incarcerated juveniles had sexual relations with one another. In the lawsuit, Schoppe said that staffers may have even had sexual relations with members of the incarcerated population.

“In at least two mind-boggling incidents, female IDJC staff members are believed to have been involved in unlawful sexual relationships with male juvenile offenders in their custody,” the filing reads. “In one instance, a female IDJC staff had relationships with an incarcerated male juvenile and moved in with him after his release.”

Rhonda Ledford, one of the employees filing the lawsuit, told the Associated Press that although she and her coworkers were told to report incidents to supervisors, she didn’t know if any of the supervisors ultimately reported the incidents to the police.

“Typically, what you’re told here is, ‘You don’t talk to anybody about it, don’t mention it, we’ll take care of it,’” Ledford told The Idaho Press-Tribune. “I don’t believe they reported it.”

IDJC officials, in a report filed with the federal court, have denied the allegations.

Microsoft Donates Software to Fight Online Child Porn

Law enforcement agencies will have free access to a new tool developed by Microsoft used to identify, track down and rescue victims of sexual abuse and child pornography. Microsoft and Facebook currently use the software, PhotoDNA, to find, delete and report child pornography online, Information Week reports.

PhotoDNA, codeveloped by Microsoft and Dartmouth College professor Hany Farid, identifies images using mathematical “signatures” even if the images have been altered, enabling law enforcement officers to find child porn online and track down and prosecute the creators of the images. The software includes the signatures of 15,000 “worst of the worst” images.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit released the software and integrated it in to other law enforcement software packages. The Digital Crimes Unit also partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to offer the source code through direct licensing allowing agencies to integrate the software into proprietary applications.

Microsoft claims PhotoDNA has led to thousands of matches and the company uses the system to identify and remove child porn uploaded to its services and to prevent child porn from showing up in results on its search engine, Bing, according to Information Week.

Most Victims of Sexual Assault Know the Alleged Offender, Study Finds

A study conducted in a sexual assault resource center found more than 70 percent of alleged offenders were known to the victims. The report by researchers at the University of Tennessee, “Percentage of Named Offenders on the Registry at the Time of the Assault: Reports from Sexual Assault Survivors,” used one year of data from the resource center during which it provided services to approximately 1,300 people.

Full names were provided for more than 60 percent of the known assailants. Of those 566 cases only 4.8 percent were found on a sex offender registry and even fewer, 3.7 percent (21 cases) were listed publicly due to the date of conviction. More than 95 percent of the alleged offenders were know personally to the victims in the 21 cases where the offender could have been identified by the sex offender registry.

Researchers concluded the sex offender registries might have limited impact due to the fact that they only include convicted sex offenders. Further complicating the issue, past studies have shown “95.9 percent of those arrested for rape and 94.1 percent of those arrested for child molestation were first-time sex offenders.”

The report was published in the journal Violence Against Women.

Survey of Police Chiefs Shows Need for Police Training to Work with Youth

At a  training of Massachusetts MBTA Training Academy recruits in July, a police officer said to the group, “What I am telling you today we did not get when we were in the academy. Now you’ve got a leg up in dealing with kids by knowing this stuff.” The officer had been trained in a train-the-trainer capacity building effort by Strategies for Youth. “Knowing this stuff about kids makes working with them easier and less stressful and believe me, they can be stressful,” he told the recruits.

The newly released findings of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) survey on juvenile justice and youth training needs suggest this officer is both right and unusual. Training in best practices for working with youth is helpful, but remains the exception to the rule across the country.

The IACP’s survey, the “2011 Juvenile Justice Training Needs Assessment,” found that police chiefs want training but lack funding and agency resources to provide it to their officers.  They wanted their officers to have the skills to work with the increasing and challenging demands posed by youth. The top 5 areas in which chiefs want their officers trained are:

  1. substance abuse;
  2. physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse;
  3. dealing with chronic juvenile offenders;
  4. bullying/cyber-bullying; and
  5. gangs. Other topics included internet offending, runaways, and school safety.

The survey is notable for the unusually large size of the sample: over 672 law enforcement officers in 404 law enforcement agencies in 49 states and the District of Columbia. The agencies represented the gamut of departments, from small and rural, to suburban, to large and urban; 77% were police departments.

Demands on  Law Enforcement:

While officers have always dealt with children and youth, arguably today they are asked to deal with them more than ever. Cuts in youth serving programs, the increased placement of officers in schools, and the common reaction of calling the police for any youth-related issue, combine to make police the first responders to incidents involving youth.

To be sure, police need to respond to the special issues created by youth, usually in the domain of the boundary testing that puts us all on edge. Increasingly, police also need to allay the fears that are piqued in many communities when a group of youth—regardless of their activity—is seen as cause for police intervention. Such interactions are even more challenging and charged when race and cultural diversity are in the mix—and officer’s mistakes go to the core of department’s legitimacy in the community.

Officers deal with youth in the course of some of the most traumatic situations of young people’s lives. But they are not trained to recognize signs of trauma or anxiety in youth, or the best practices for dealing with youth who have been traumatized. Officers across America are the number one referral agents for abuse and neglect of children, the first responders for domestic violence incidents involving children, and for working with youth who victimize and are victimized. Departments can’t fairly claim to support community policing if they don’t know the best practices for working with a large sector of their jurisdiction’s population: youth under the age of 19 represent 1/6 of the American population.

Where’s the Training?

More than half the chiefs surveyed by the IACP reported a decrease or abolition of training programs in the last five years.  The survey results echo Strategies for Youth’s view that American police are not  provided necessary skills for working with youth. They are not trained in best practices or the most effective methods. Lack of capacity and resources is one reason; the IACP confirms another conclusion of SFY, namely that this training is not included or given priority in police academy curricula.

Respondents to the survey noted that coverage of such topics at the academy level is limited and is not mandated after basic academy level training. The survey found that not only is such training not offered, but most departments do not have written guidelines or standard operating procedures for responding to incidents involving youth.

The combination of these deficits means that American officers are not receiving the support, guidance, and training to provide quality police/youth interactions.

The Solutions?

The federal government needs to step into the breach. The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) is best positioned to fill this void, albeit the least well-funded, to make this a national policy priority and goal. State police officer standard and training (POST) offices need to include such training as part of their mandated academy and in-service training.

Training officers how to work with youth: it’s what chiefs say they want, it’s what science shows works, and it’s what kids need.


The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

Second-hand Store Benefits Victims of Sex Trafficking

We all have closets full of old clothes that don’t fit and houses filled with dust-collecting knick-knacks.  Wellspring Living, through their upscale resale boutiques Wellspring Treasures, is turning those gently used items into help for victims of sexual abuse and trafficking.

Wellspring Living has been offering therapy and education to sexual abuse victims for ten years.  Run almost entirely by volunteers, all proceeds from the three Wellspring Treasures stores benefit the women and girls involved with the programs.

“The women who come to the Wellspring Living house commit to 6 months or a year,” said volunteer Haley Welsh.  After leaving the house, the women live with a family who help them transition into their own place.

All three Wellspring Treasures stores located in the metro Atlanta area accept donations six days a week.