This piece was originally published at GenFKD.
At a time when federally contracted private prisons are being phased out, it’s time to consider the same issues going on inside of private juvenile detention centers.
Private juvenile detention centers
Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s juvenile delinquents are in private facilities, according to the most recent federal data from 2011. This number has been steadily increasing for the past decade, up from 33 percent in 1999.
As with private facilities for adults, the officials for these companies promise significant cost savings compared to government-run juvenile facilities. However, these profits are questionable for several reasons: contracts that require a certain number of beds filled, lawsuits that dwindle profits, and juveniles who return to the criminal justice system after inadequate rehabilitation efforts.
Most importantly, however, these supposed cost savings are not worth the abuse, neglect and other mistreatment that goes on inside of private facilities.
Abuse, neglect and other mistreatment
One of the most famous cases of abuse is Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, which was closed in 2012 after an investigation found rampant sexual abuse, both perpetrated between the juveniles themselves (and ignored by the guards) and by the guards on the juveniles. Guards were freely beating and pepper spraying juveniles, as well as ignoring gang fights and assaults. Some guards were even reported to be gang affiliated.
Though private facilities do not release enough info to have actual statistics, a 2013 Huffington Post investigation revealed a more comprehensive overview of the abuse. After interviewing 14 former employees and reviewing thousands of documents, HuffPost found that sexual abuse, violence and inadequate care were all commonplace occurrences at private juvenile facilities.
“Private juvenile facilities had twice the rate of reported sexual abuse than government-controlled ones.”
The U.S. Department of Justice confirmed the difference in sexual abuse by finding in a 2012 survey that private juvenile facilities had twice the rate of reported sexual abuse than government-controlled ones (8 to 4 percent). And the 2012 Juvenile Residential Facility Census found that private facilities generally had a higher death rate than government-controlled ones.
Why the issues don’t get taken care of
After so many cases of inadequate care at private youth facilities, it seems surprising that very little has been done to solve the issues.
Firstly, this is largely due to the companies covering up many of the issues before they hit law enforcement or the spotlight.
When officials at Mesabi Academy, a juvenile center in Minnesota, learned that several of the boys in the center had reported being sexually assaulted by an employee, they did nothing.
Six months later, county officials got ahold of the information and launched an investigation themselves. They did not find enough evidence to prove that the incidents had occurred. However, during the process, they found several other cases in which Mesabi had learned of sexual abuse and not reported it.
When the county tried to terminate their contract with Mesabi, a state politician intervened and protested the loss of jobs. The contract was renewed.
With mistreatment running rampant in private juvenile facilities, it is time for the states to follow suit with the federal decision to phase out private prisons.
Juvenile delinquents need adequate care and rehabilitation to move forward with their lives and not end up in the criminal justice system as adults.
Continuing to allow private facilities to botch their care is detrimental to their lives and is a key piece of the pipeline for our inflated prison population.
GenFKD is equipping millennials with the skills and education necessary to create and lead the “new economy.” To learn more, head over to GenFKD.org.
Founded in 2013 as a financial literacy organization, GenFKD is growing into an organization that’s revolutionizing American higher education. Through skills-based training and student-first reforms, GenFKD is advancing a system of “new education” focused on improving post-graduate outcomes in areas of gainful employment, financial preparedness and entrepreneurial readiness.