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Juvenile Department of Corrections has major issues it must address

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 8:08 a.m. CST

The following editorial appeared in The Telegraph (Alton, Ill.) on Thursday, June 13:


(MCT) — When thinking about the violation of human rights, images come to mind of faraway countries removed from our reach: The brutal acts against the Tamil population of Sri Lanka, the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China and the ongoing treatment of dissidents in that country, or the estimated 15.5 million children worldwide forced to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week for little or no money.

There’s a problem right here, though, in the land of the Great Emancipator.

A report released this week shows Illinois juveniles are falling prey to sexual abuse in prisons at a rate significantly higher than all but a few states.

In studying 326 juvenile confinement facilities nationwide, U.S. Justice Department investigators found more than 15 percent of young inmates in Illinois were sexual abused — either by staff members or other inmates — during the previous year.

Nationally, the average was 9.5 percent. Illinois is fifth-highest, behind only California, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

If this were a new issue, one that had never been brought to the attention of officials before, perhaps it would be easier to understand how the numbers could be so high. In reality, the numbers are on the decline, in part because of the findings of the same report several years ago.

No one should be subjected to the lifetime scars of sexual abuse. All too often, such abuse exacerbates criminal behavior and violent attitudes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates juveniles put into adult prisons are already 34 percent more likely to commit a felony in the future.

For many, it ends in suicide.

Corrections officials are vowing action, but that is not enough. There needs to be a thorough and independent look into the state’s juvenile facilities and a clear and concise message that such acts will not be tolerated.

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