Ohio’s Juvenile Prisons: A Grim Portrait

Half of the roughly 1,800 young offenders who spend time in Ohio’s juvenile prisons return within three years. That’s just one of several startling facts highlighted in an investigation published yesterday in the Columbus Dispatch. The portrait painted is grim, dotted by failures.

The ratio of wards to mental health professionals is abominable: Even though about 70 percent of all inmates are found to be in need of treatment (which itself suggests a failure of assessment), only thirty-one psychologists are on staff to handle the caseload. Violence between inmates, and between inmates and guards, is a daily reality and on the rise; the number of reported assaults last year (2,520) was double the number from the year before. And lockdowns are routinely imposed as punishment, often for weeks at a stretch. As you can imagine, education in such an environment is a low priority: At one center, roughly a quarter of the inmates habitually skip their classes.

Department of Youth Services director Tom Stickrath, confronted with the report, responded in a manner very well suited to its findings. Demonstrating an utter failure of leadership, he said, “I know we have room for improvement–unequivocally. Every day we ask ourselves, ‘What can we do better?'” Ohio taxpayers, who are spending nearly $80,000 per year for each inmate that gets tossed into this maelstrom, should be asking the same thing, preferably through a bullhorn.

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