Monday, July 19, 2004

Juvenile prison sex acts common

Most unreported, newspaper finds

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Ohio's worst juvenile sex offenders have ample opportunity to continue illicit sexual activity in the prison holding them, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility could pass for a private boys' high school if not for the fence topped with coils of razor wire. Several brown buildings arranged around a grassy courtyard are places where sex acts can go undetected or unreported, or unpunished when discovered, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Lack of sufficient state funding contributes to a need to bunk two youths already coping with sexual issues in a small room, and counseling tends to be in group sessions.

The 264-bed, maximum-security lockup about 20 miles south of Columbus, administered by Ohio's Department of Youth Services, houses juvenile rapists and molesters from across Ohio.

The Dispatch identified 123 sexual incidents from 2000 through early 2004, based on official reports of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which investigates crimes on state property; Youth Services, prison inspections and juvenile-court files.

Most incidents unreported

The Circleville institution started housing only sex offenders in 2001, and sex incidents soared to more than one reported incident a week the next year. The frequency of reports has declined to about 20 a year in recent years.

"There's a huge amount of sexual activity going on there - willing and unwilling," said John Davidson, a former social worker and corrections officer who quit two years ago. "And just like in normal society, most of it doesn't get reported."

Sex in the prison goes on "every night, I guarantee it," said Karen Hamlin, a social worker who quit last summer. "The police reports you're seeing are only the ones who get caught."

A former inmate, Thomas Colwell, 21, of Clermont County, said that "a lot of sex is going on there." He said he rebuffed numerous advances from other inmates.

Some improvements noted

Youth Services acknowledges struggling with budget cuts at a time when nearly one of every four youth inmates across Ohio is a sex offender.

"I still think we do a very good job with the hand we're dealt," Chief of Staff Kevin Miller said. "We feel we're effective."

Miller cited numerous improvements - national accreditation, more inmates earning diplomas, less labor strife - since Gary Mohr was appointed as Circleville's superintendent 21/2 years ago.

"We've got to do a lot better, and we're going do a lot better," Mohr said.

Of 1,850 youth inmates statewide, 436 are sex offenders.

Counselors and social workers in Ohio must be licensed and hold a college degree in their field - unless they work in a juvenile prison. Only one of about 12 social workers who counsels the state's most dangerous juvenile sex offenders at the Circleville facility is licensed for that role.

One-on-one and family therapy is lacking.

"It's not therapy. It's not counseling - even in the lightest sense," said Hamlin.

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