A review of a year and a half of open Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) cases in Georgia reveals 275 unresolved investigation files with sexual connotations, including 141 that meet Department of Justice (DOJ) definitions of sexual harassment or sexual abuse.
On Friday, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Avery D. Niles announced that a month-long investigation into a series of uncompleted sexual abuse reports within the states’ departments had concluded.
In a press release, Niles stated that an Advisory Committee uncovered 12 reports alleging staff-on-juvenile sexual abuse, which, despite meeting requirements for federal classification, remain both open and uncompleted by investigators.
A review of 18 months’ worth of DJJ records -- in all, nearly 700 open cases -- resulted in Advisory Committee investigators substantiating three cases of staff-on-youth sexual abuse. Of the 141 open cases that met the DOJ standard for sexual harassment or abuse, 102 involved juvenile-on-juvenile allegations, while 39 involved staff-on-youth allegations.
All but five of the staff-on-youth allegations involved cases inside secured DJJ facilities. Nineteen of the cases were found to be unsubstantiated, while an additional 12 remain under investigation. In community-based programs, five staff-on-juvenile allegations were filed. Two were found to be unsubstantiated, while the other three cases remain open.
As a result of the findings, Niles has announced the hiring of a new Director of Investigations, Ricky H. Rich, alongside wide scale departmental restructuring, with members of the state’s former Investigations supervisory staff being reassigned. All Regional Principal Investigators have been replaced, Niles stated, while the former Chief of Investigations has been assigned to a new Internal Affairs Investigation Unit under the DJJ Office of Investigations.
“We are taking serious and meaningful steps to reorganize and restore accountability in the Investigations Division,” Niles stated in a DJJ press release. “Job-One in the Division is to investigate actions that threaten the safety and security of our youth in state care and custody. That job must be accomplished in an organized, timely and professional manner.”
Niles and Rich announced sweeping DJJ Office of Investigations changes as part of new “official action plan,” which entails, among other policies, revised training procedures for suspended investigators, the creation of a joint Department of Corrections (DOC) and DJJ tracking system and the hiring of several new personnel, including two new regional field supervisors, a principal investigator and a Chief of Investigations.
The action plan also calls for comprehensive changes to DJJ case review protocol, with regional field supervisors and Investigators assigned weekly case reviews and the Director of Investigations, alongside an Office of Investigations management team, conducting “Com Stat”-styled case evaluations every month.
Under the new plan, all DJJ cases will be audited quarterly, while a new code system will be implemented to distinguish between cases alleging sexual activity that violates DJJ policy and cases that allege valid Prison Rape and Elimination (PREA) Act violations.
“Youth safety is at stake and we have pledged to maintain a sexually safe environment for all our residents,” Niles stated. “Initiating these new corrective actions and system innovations will help ensure reports and complaints of sexual harassment and abuse are expedited through DJJ’s investigative process as the demands of Georgia’s Juvenile Justice Reform Law become part of DJJ’s future legal landscape.”