Kids in Prison Frequently Assaulted by the Adults “Helping” Them

Teens should be out and about reading books, playing sports and enjoying the finer things in life as they prepare for their transition to adulthood. Unfortunately, all too many children in the United States are growing up behind bars; almost 100,000 children across the U.S. are detained in various facilities for both children and adults on any given day, with that statistic going up for children of color such as Black and Latino children.

It’s bad enough that so many potentially promising young members of our society are imprisoned: it gets even worse when you start looking at what children and teens endure in prison. Like their adult counterparts, they have limited access to educational opportunities, and often don’t get adequate health care and balanced nutrition. And, like their adult counterparts, they’re also at a very high risk of rape, sexual assault and abuse.

Popular narratives about prison rape often describe it as an inmate-on-inmate problem, but the issue actually centers around guards, supervisors and other prison staff too. In the case of children, that includes counselors, teachers and other people who are supposed to help juvenile inmates get their lives back on track. The very people sent to intervene in the juvenile justice system, in other words, are sometimes making it even more of a living torment for inmates.

According to a grim survey conducted by the Department of Justice, fully 20% of teens who report assaults in juvenile detention facilities and group homes have been assaulted 10 or more times. This is not a case of isolated incidents or some untrustworthy personnel, but indicative of a serious systemic problem that urgently needs to be addressed. It illustrates how the United States is failing its youth at every level of the juvenile justice system, from attempts to divert foster children into safe care before they enter the so-called “cradle-to-prison pipeline” that snaps up low-income children (usually those of color) to safety standards at juvenile institutions.

The report indicates that when it comes to juvenile sexual assaults and rapes, the rate of staff-on-inmate violence is three times higher than that of adults, showing that children are viewed as easy or soft targets. Looking at individual cases of abuse, a pattern of grooming and then repeated abuse appears, showing that staff members are carefully cultivating their victims with gifts, special favors and other signs of preference before abusing them, and that once they start sexually assaulting them, they usually continue to do so.

Teens and children in detention are very literally captive prey. Since they occupy a marginalized position thanks to their criminal history, typically lower economic class, and, often, racial background, children and teens in the juvenile justice system may not be taken seriously when they report sexual assault and abuse. This makes it hard to track the true numbers on abuse — as with in the adult prison system or the civilian population in general, the actual rate is likely much, much higher than the reported rate, suggesting that life in the system is even more dire than the report indicates.

The United States struggles to care for its youth, choosing to shut down schools, increase class sizes, rely heavily on dangerously flawed schools tests, and limit opportunities for many youth in response to budgetary problems and shifting social priorities. Under these conditions, it seems nearly impossible to imagine that the juvenile justice system will improve, making it a healthy and safe place for inmates, but it must, and the Department of Justice is responsible for ensuring that it will.

Photo credit: ThinkStock


Rita Davey
Rita D4 years ago

First off in my comment that "yes" if a serious crime is committed they should be given Jail Time. Not knowing you were speaking of the States, my sincere apologies.
Here in Canada many young Offenders' are sent to "Group Homes" where there are rules and regulations. Up at a certain time, curfew going out, chores, manners, I think you get the idea.
My own grandson being one of them. At home he was able to do whatever, my daughter has this idea that punishment is wrong? It certainly didnt' hurt her however... She let my grandson, live in his room, stay up all night, to tired to go to school. He is ADHD, not that she felt any less sorry for him. He got bad enough that it was herself that had to call the police. He was taken in by Childrens Aide and placed in an All Boys' Home. She herself being scrutinized by the Childrens' Aide and I myself cant' blame them. She has 3 other children him being 14. He attacked me at one point, put a choke hold on me and tried to knock me down the stairs. Not funny. Anyways she wasn't allowed to see him, she could talk by cell phone but only for a certain amt. of time. As I said there were rules. I have to say after spending 6 mths. in this home his grades improved, his manners are impreccable. He cleans his room (as he should). There is no more beating up his little sister. He is home now, not sure for good or just summer holidays. I do so hope this all works out b/c my daughter is one of those who only deals with stipulations for a period of

Heather O.
Heather O4 years ago

It's sad that I'm not surprised or shocked. *sigh*

faith v.
faith v4 years ago

"The United States struggles to care for its youth, choosing to shut down schools, increase class sizes, rely heavily on dangerously flawed schools tests, and limit opportunities for many youth in response to budgetary problems and shifting social priorities."

This is intended satirically, right? There is no way I could call it a joke.

The USA, led by for-sale Repubs and not stopped by frightened Dems, could hardly care less about its youth. "Land of unlimited opportunity" took on a new dimension 13 years ago, and Obama has NOT pulled the cart out of the quicksand yet.

Lynn D.
Lynn D4 years ago

Truly sad that humans can be so very mean............

Sheila D.
GGmaSAway D4 years ago

How very sad that in a country supposedly free and caring, America allows this to go on. I say it allows because this is not a new thing that has just started up but an on going problem that most in law enforement and/or the judicial system will or can not address. What makes it worse is that in too many cases it is done by the very should-be protectors of the children. Because these young people are incarcerated with their rapists and abusers makes it double troubling to me.

Agan, I ask why is it always women and children who have to suffer? What can we do NOW to stop this violation of both?

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago

thank you

Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

It’s sad that so many people miss the point of the article. It’s not about kids committing crimes & going to jail. It’s about unscrupulous people in roles of power & authority taking advantage of those they perceive as weaker. We’ve seen it in the Catholic church, where priests—considered God’s emissaries—take advantage of their flock, so it’s no surprise that prison guards, counselors, teachers, and others in positions of authority take advantage. These kids are confined and unable to escape the sexual abuse. No wonder they come out of jail worse than they went in.
What’s wrong with a system where guards, teachers & counselors are sexual predators? Can you say “statutory rape”? And what are these perverts doing when they’re not at work?

Lisa D.
Lisa D4 years ago

why dont you put your efforts towards keeping them out of prisons in the first place? Less crimes committed, less kids in prison.

Marla G.
M G4 years ago

wow...i wonder how we can prevent this?

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for sharing