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Illinois youth prison had high rate of sex assault

CHICAGO — Nearly one in five inmates at a now-defunct Joliet, Ill., youth prison reported being victims of sexual assault, one of the highest rates of any youth detention center in the country, according to a report released Thursday morning by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In survey results published Thursday, 21 percent of inmates at Illinois Youth Center-Joliet, a high-security juvenile detention center that was closed this year in a cost-cutting move by Gov. Pat Quinn, reported they had been sexually assaulted by other inmates or had sexual contact with a staff member.

That percentage was more than double the national average of just under 10 percent, according to the report, “Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth.”

Overall, the rate of sexual victimization of Illinois youth prisons was more than 15 percent, higher than all but four other states.

Most of the respondents said the sexual contact was with staff of the facility, with only 2 percent reporting unwanted sexual contact with other inmates.

In 2011, a male IYC-Joliet guard was sentenced to six years in prison for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old inmate in 2008.

The John Howard Association, an independent prison monitoring group, made regular visits to IYC-Joliet and toured the facility last year. While John Howard staff backed Quinn’s plan to close IYC-Joliet, it was because the facility operated much like an adult prison, offering few activities or programs to help rehabilitate the 255 juvenile prisoners there, said spokesman John Maki. 

In interviews with John Howard staff, inmates did not mention sexual assault among their grievances with the facility, but Maki said young offenders are less likely to talk about sexual victimization than adult offenders.

“Sexual assault is a hard thing to get at and I think what it requires a permanent presence and an advocate inside the facilities,” Maki said. “It really bothers me that even though we regularly visited this facility, we never got a whiff of this.”

The majority of juvenile offenders who would have been sent to IYC-Joliet before it closed now go to the Illinois Youth Center in Kewanee, about 100 miles west of Joliet. The primary complaint of inmates at Kewanee, many of whom are from Cook County, is that the facility is far from their home, Maki said.

The Justice Department report shows nearly 15 percent of Kewanee inmates reported sexual victimization.


©2013 Chicago Tribune

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