What can Illinois do to reduce sexual abuse in juvenile detention facilities?  Illinois is in the top four of states with this problem, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Justice, with 15 percent of detainees saying they had experienced sexual abuse, either by staff or fellow inmates. Ohio, Georgia and South Carolina were the other states with rates this high.
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The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, a 25-member panel of experts that recommends policy, has come up with some suggestions, and presented them to Illinois lawmakers.
Among them:
  •  Don’t incarcerate so many kids in the first place. “The department (of Juvenile Justice) and the state … have made tremendous progress in that area. We need to continue it and accelerate it and make sure that we’re getting kids out of those secure facilities in a timely way, and providing them with the support they need in the community,” testified Lisa Jacobs, vice chairman of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.
  • n  Research indicates that the incarcerated youth most likely to have said they experienced sexual abuse are those in large facilities (100 or more inmates), those with longer stays and those who are disconnected from interaction with their families, so the commission is calling for smaller facilities, shorter terms of incarceration and efforts to keep the inmates in touch with their families.
  • n  Provide a legitimate way for juvenile detainees to complain, either through an ombudsman or inspector general system.
  • n  Keep youth offenders out of the adult correctional system, whether it’s the Illinois Department of Corrections, county jails or city police lockups.
  • n  Make sure juvenile offenders have legal representation during their term of incarceration.