New report says inadequate staffing allowed for sexual misconduct in youth prisons

Department says it is hiring more workers but specifics are lacking

October 24, 2013

Patrick Smith

(Photo courtesy of Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice
The Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice office in Springfield.

A report from an outside consultant says inadequate staffing and oversight led to high rates of sexual abuse in Illinois youth prisons.

Arthur Bishop, director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, said the department is hiring more workers – but he said the department is going to need a budget increase next year to get staffing to correct levels.

The report, released Wednesday, was prepared by Kinsale Management Consulting, a California-based firm that previously investigated sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. It was commissioned by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice after a June report by The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics ranked Illinois as one of the worst in the country for sexual victimization in youth prisons.

The study credits the department for responding quickly to that ranking, but it also says some of the state’s measures to prevent sexual misconduct are outdated and insufficient.

Specifically, the report calls on the department to update its camera system, hire more prison staff and do a better job of investigating allegations.

Department of Juvenile Justice Director Arthur Bishop said they’ve already hired 25 new workers, but he couldn’t give specifics about how many more they need or when the hires would occur.

“I can’t give you an exact number," he said, "but I can tell you without hesitation that we are looking to fill all critical vacancies."

Bishop also said the department is going to spend almost $2 million on new cameras.

The department has until 2017 to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, and will soon be operating under a federal consent decree with regards to its education and mental health care. Both of those will likely mean more staff, and more money.

Bishop couldn’t give an estimate of how much the total improvements will cost.

“We’re hoping that the General Assembly, when our budget comes about, will work with us on not only meeting these needs of staffing but also the upcoming consent decree requirements and the [Prison Rape Elimination Act] requirements that have some impact on staffing ratios,” he said.

The report was conducted over a 60-day period. It involved a review of the department’s records and a visit to each of Illinois’ six youth prisons, where researchers interviewed staff, former workers and youth.

One of the key findings of the report was that the federal survey was likely much more accurate than the department’s own sexual abuse figures.

While the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice’s internal records indicated a sexual victimization rate of .006 percent, the BJS survey indicated a rate of 15.4 percent, more than 2,500 times higher.

The consultant's report made public Wednesday blamed this inconsistency on victim underreporting, inadequate record keeping and failure of staff to report sexual misconduct.

In fact, researchers noted a “code of silence” among some prison staff members who told researchers they would not tell on their fellow employees if they knew about misconduct.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ producer and reporter. Follow him on twitter @pksmid.