The Ohio Department of Youth Services is turning to its youthful offenders in an attempt to identify what steps it can take to reduce a sexual victimization rate ranked as the worst in the nation in a federal survey.
The agency is designing its own survey that will ask its 450 offenders to “give more insight on the nature of the sexual activity,” including frequency and whether it involved force and other youth or staff members, spokeswoman Jill Craig said Friday.
An alarmed Gov. Mike DeWine instructed the agency to undertake the survey after a U.S. Department of Justice survey of juvenile prisoners found 15.3% of incarcerated Ohio youths reported forced or coerced sexual activity in 2018.
Ohio’s rate was more than twice the national 7.1% rate of sexual victimization, but the state’s 15.3% figure declined from the 17.1% rate recorded in a similar federal survey in 2012, when it also ranked the highest.
The four Democrats on the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee wrote Director Ryan Gies on Thursday to also request a survey, writing “the state has utterly failed in its duty” to protect youth from sexual predators.
The department should be prepared to list actions it will take to reduce sexual victimization of youth, said the letter from Sens. Sandra Williams of Cleveland and Hearcel Craig and Reps. Erica Crawley and Adam Miller, all of Columbus.
The state survey will ask youth to provide details such as times and locations of sexual incidents “to tailor any safety and security improvements in a way that they will be most impactful,” Craig said.
“Any sexual conduct within our facilities is prohibited and unacceptable … While we have already made many improvements in our facilities since the survey was taken around two years ago, it is clear that more work must still be done,” she said.
The Department of Youth Services oversees offenders 10 to 21 years old who have been convicted of juvenile crimes and operates three detention centers near Circleville, Massillon and Highland Hills.
State figures show no rapes have occurred at the three detention centers since 2015. Ten cases of sexual misconduct involved staff members, and 28 were youth-on-youth incidents involving unforced sex, sexual harassment and sexual imposition.