Holding Juvenile Officers Accountable

Professor Roger L. Goldman (St. Louis) brought an important issue to my attention: whether a particular state’s laws consider personnel who work with juveniles to be more like social workers or like law enforcement for the purpose of revocation of certificates/licenses for serious misconduct.

Professor Goldman shares that only a few states (including Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) maintain the authority to revoke such licenses, meaning that the vast majority cannot prevent staff in juvenile corrections, probation, or detention units from being rehired by another institution in the same state, despite evidence of misconduct.

The inhumane treatment of youth in juvenile detention and corrections facilities, including both physical and sexual abuse, is well-documented.  Professor Goldman directs us to an article in USA Today from 2008 that illustrates the urgent need for states to maintain the authority to revoke licenses for cause.  Here is an excerpt:

The Columbia Training School — pleasant on the outside, austere on the inside — has been home to 37 of the most troubled young women in Mississippi.  If some of those girls and their advocates are to be believed, it is also a cruel and frightening place.

The school has been sued twice in the past four years. One suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department, which the state settled in 2005, claimed detainees were thrown naked in to cells and forced to eat their own vomit. The second one, brought by eight girls last year, said they were subjected to “horrendous physical and sexual abuse.” Several of the detainees said they were shackled for 12 hours a day.

These are harsh and disturbing charges — and, in the end, they were among the reasons why state officials announced in February that they will close Columbia. But they aren’t uncommon.

Across the country, in state after state, child advocates have deplored the conditions under which young offenders are housed — conditions that include sexual and physical abuse and even deaths in restraints. The U.S. Justice Department has filed lawsuits against facilities in 11 states for supervision that is either abusive or harmfully lax and shoddy.

Still, a lack of oversight and nationally accepted standards of tracking abuse make it difficult to know exactly how many youngsters have been assaulted or neglected.

 

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About Tamar Birckhead

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