Legal Blog

Contraband and Sexual Assaults in Georgia’s Youth Detention Centers

March 29, 2012

A statewide investigation of 27 youth detention centers reveals shocking reports of sexual misconduct and contraband smuggling on the part of some of those hired to keep such centers secure.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported that a former staff member at the Regional Youth Detention Center in Gainesville, Georgia was fired in early February following an internal investigation into allegations that she had a sexual relationship with a 14 year-old boy in State custody.  As a result, Ardith Brown now faces felony child molestation and sexual assault charges in Hall County.

These recent difficulties confirm the fears of some citizens who have long felt that youth detention offers little more than an opportunity to gain an education in criminality.  Ideally, these centers would provide troubled kids and teenagers a chance to rehabilitate in an effort to keep them from becoming part of the adult criminal justice system.  However, recent reports reveal troubling realities about how the facilities are run and whether any steps toward rehabilitation are actually being achieved.

The investigation leading to Brown’s arrest was part of a system-wide review that the Department of Juvenile Justice began last November after the fatal beating of a 19 year-old in a youth detention center in Augusta.  Since the investigation into the Augusta facility began, a new director has been named, nine employees have been fired and two others have been demoted and/or transferred to different facilities.

In January, after an 18 year-old detainee alleged sexual assault at the same Augusta detention center, Juvenile Commissioner Gale Buckner informed local lawmakers that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was now getting involved.  According to the Augusta Chronicle, the GBI conducted lengthy interviews of the staff in Augusta, probing allegations of sexual contact between security officers and detainees (some of which have been admitted to) as well as the smuggling of contraband into the facility.

The investigation then expanded to the State’s other youth detention centers.  Buckner noted that surprise inspections at all 27 Georgia youth detention centers have resulted in “more diligent monitoring” of youth activity by juvenile corrections officers.

Time will tell whether the ongoing investigations will not only root out those who have failed to serve the best interests of these young people, but whether our system of juvenile justice can be saved from what appears to be irreparable damage.

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