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Breaking the Cycle of Abuse in Juvenile Facilities

NCJ Number
Barry Krisberg, Ph.D.
Date Published
February 2009
8 pages
After documenting the prevalence of sexual assault and violence in juvenile facilities in California, Texas, Florida, and Marion County, Indiana, this paper presents eight recommendations for reforms.
First, youth corrections systems must implement research-based risk and needs assessment classification systems in order to identify those youth most likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence and/or sexual assault. Second, living unit sizes must be no larger than 20 youth. Barrack-style dorms should be phased out and staff ratios should be less than one to eight. Third, staff should be trained in techniques such as Normative Culture, which was developed by the North American Family Institute. Normative Culture creates "communities of dignity and respect" in juvenile correctional programs. Fourth, training in gender-responsive adolescent psychological development must be required of all staff working in juvenile corrections facilities. Specifically, the staff needs a better understanding of the victimization of gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender youth. Fifth, there must be adequate numbers of medical and mental health professionals assigned to juvenile facilities; and these clinical staff should be trained in recognizing and responding appropriately to incidents of sexual victimization. Sixth, institutionalized youth must have access to reporting and grievance systems that produce thorough investigations of alleged victimization. Seventh, youth facilities should be subject to regular inspections by independent groups with the authority to conduct confidential interviews with youth in order to identify potential problems of sexual victimization. Eighth, juvenile facilities must create living environments for youth that are as normal as possible. This means that harsh custodial tactics must be eliminated, and treatment and rehabilitation must be central features of juveniles' custodial experience. This paper also briefly discusses the role of the National Institute of Corrections and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in these reform efforts, as well as the role of nongovernmental groups committed to human rights. 14 references