November 25, 2014

Elyria
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32°F
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Report: Youth prisons largely flawed

COLUMBUS — Ohio’s youth prisons are overcrowded and understaffed and fail to educate children behind bars or keep them safe, according to a new report that found widespread problems in the system serving about 1,700 youths.

Excessive use of force is common and ingrained in the operations of the Department of Youth Services, according to the report by consultant Fred Cohen released Monday. The report found that guards regularly place children in solitary confinement for inappropriately long periods of time.

Cohen’s report also found that the department’s eight detention centers have no functioning mental health program and a school system in disarray.

The report also said a “we-they” attitude is ingrained in guards’ behavior from the time they start working in the system. The guards function more like police officers or prison guards than members of a team trying to rehabilitate children, the report said.

Youths’ “physical and psychological well-being is at risk and often damaged at the present time,” the report concluded. “This environment, in turn, dramatically impedes whatever efforts are made to provide treatment and programs.”

The state hired Cohen to investigate after attorneys representing imprisoned youth filed a civil rights lawsuit over conditions in the juvenile centers.

Youth Services director Tom Stickrath says he agrees with the report’s findings and is pushing for major changes.