UPDATE, 1/9/2020: Read our story titled “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Abuse” to learn more about the ways OYA works to prevent sexual abuse in our facilities.
We are extremely concerned by the results of a federal survey released last week. Keeping youth safe in our secure facilities and residential programs is one of our primary responsibilities, and the data in the report suggests we need to do a much better job of that.
The report states that Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility in Albany is one of 12 facilities across the country with a high rate of sexual victimization.
Titled “Sexual Victimization Reported by Youth in Juvenile Facilities, 2018,” the report was released Dec. 11 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the report, 14.3% of 42 youth surveyed at Oak Creek in January 2018 reported sexual victimization. The national average was 7.1%.
Why the Results Are Puzzling
The survey results puzzled us. Everyone at OYA cares about the safety of our youth. And we invest considerable time, attention, and resources in preventing and addressing sexual abuse wherever we place youth. (See this partial list of things we do at Oak Creek to prevent and respond to sexual abuse, which also applies to our other facilities.)
So, we are seeking more context on the federal data to better understand what it means. For example, the report does not say how many of the incidents reported by youth were committed by staff versus committed by youth.
What’s more, the survey contradicts all of the other data we have on sexual abuse in our facilities. Independent audits are done at Oak Creek and our other facilities every three years. Those are done in accord with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The March 2018 PREA audit found Oak Creek in compliance with the guidelines. That audit also included random interviews with youth, who reported they felt safe.
We also take part in a national program, called Performance-Based Standards (PbS). As part of that, our youth take an anonymous national survey every six months. It includes questions about sexual victimization and safety. Those survey results show that Oak Creek youth feel increasingly safe there. They also place Oak Creek at or below the national average when it comes to youth reports of sex abuse incidents.
What Comes Next
We are investigating why the federal results don’t match up with our own data. And we’ll need to review our current efforts to keep youth safe from sexual abuse. When we do that, we will look at data for our entire system, not just Oak Creek.
The federal survey also has results for our other facilities, as well as results from residential programs we contract with. Once we are done with that review, we need to use what we learn to improve youth safety.
Since we’ve only just received the survey results, however, we will need time to come up with an action plan.
Again, OYA is committed to keeping youth safe. None of us who work here want to see youth in our care come to harm. And all of us want to make our services safer where we can. The survey is an opportunity to re-examine our work and make sure we live up to that part of our mission.