Youth prisons raise questions

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The State of Ohio’s solution to fix its youth prison system appears to be broken as well.

A recent report released by the Department of Youth Services cited numerous problems in the state’s youth facilities, with the Ohio River Valley facility in Franklin Furnace ranking among the worse.

The report cited too many incidents of violent restraint, extreme injuries and a gang-type culture.

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But it simply isn’t enough purely to look at these results without taking a comprehensive look at the entire system that incarcerates and attempts to “reform” these “children,” and both those terms are used very loosely.

Many of the problems began with the solution.

In 2004, a lawsuit and subsequent judge’s ruling determined there was a culture of violence and excessive force by the guards at the state’s youth prisons.

The country-club treatment began, essentially tying the hands of administrators and staff at these facilities.

Now is time to look at every aspect of Ohio’s juvenile detention system.

Are appropriate sentences being handed out? Are youth being sent to the correct places? Are facilities properly setup and equipped to meet the objectives? Is there enough staff with the correct training to handle any situation that arises? Do we have to re-evaluate what is considered “excessive force,” “juvenile inmate” and “punishment?” Are we asking guards to do the impossible by applying a standardized set of rules to situations of varying degrees of danger? Is enough done to ensure those working in the prison system have the right temperament and approach to do so?

All are important questions, and the answers will greatly determine the course of Ohio’s youth prison system.

To rely simply on a proposed solution that may be flawed itself is a classic case of the cure being as bad as the disease.