Young offenders need safeguards in detention centers

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

As the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services has "struggled to manage the juvenile offender population and adequately staff the District's juvenile detention facilities" ["D.C. facility has surge in juvenile detainees," Metro, Jan. 21], dozens of nonviolent juveniles are put at risk of horrifying abuse every day.

D.C. officials fear that poor security could result in escapes. But poor security can lead to worse than that. It was poor security that was cited in a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics as one of the main factors for the sexual assault of more than 12 percent of detained youths by staff and other inmates. In some facilities, the assault rate was as high as 30 percent.

We can't afford to warehouse kids in such conditions. Sexual abuse can leave lifelong psychological scars that make it harder for offenders to reintegrate into society. We must hold juveniles accountable, but we must also provide real opportunities for change in safe environments, including through alternatives to incarceration such as drug courts, substance-abuse programs and electronic monitoring. No juvenile offender deserves a sentence of sexual assault.

Kathryn Wiley, Round Hill

The writer is a researcher for the group Justice Fellowship.


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