Sunday, September 5, 2004

Problems at girls prison

Report describes poor care, abuse

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Guards at Ohio's only prison for girls used excessive force and authorities conducted incomplete and meaningless investigations into reports of abuse, according to a draft report by a state-hired consultant.

The Ohio Department of Youth Services, which runs the state's eight juvenile prisons, commissioned the report following complaints in January from advocacy groups about conditions at Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility.

About 120 girls between 12 and 21, convicted of felonies, live in the prison, about 15 miles north of Columbus. Scioto also has 185 boys in separate buildings.

The report, by consultant Fred Cohen of Tucson, Ariz., said a new superintendent, hired in February, has made improvements.

But in "virtually every aspect of custody and care, Scioto has not provided the treatment and rehabilitation these girls need and deserve," according to the draft.

Youth Services Director Geon Natalucci-Persichetti said the report was more negative than he expected. While he questioned some characterizations, he didn't dispute the assessment.

"Overall, it's not too far from my understanding of the depth of the problems," he said. "We've already responded and have already started dealing with some of the issues."

Kim Brooks Tandy, director of the Children's Law Center, an advocacy group in Covington, said she hopes the report backs up the urgent need for reforms that she and others have been demanding.

"We raised very serious concerns earlier in the year about the abuses and the care that these girls get in this facility. I think this report speaks for itself - that the situation is dire and needs immediate attention in many respects," she said.

Among the problems cited by the report:

•  A 17-year-old girl who received inadequate medical care and died of cancer.

•  A girl who left the prison three months pregnant and moved in with a guard. Administrators knew of the relationship, but did not discipline the guard.

•  Guards used excessive force and broke girls' arms.

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