Report: Problems ongoing in Ohio youth prisons

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- There have been some positive changes to Ohio's youth prison system, but there also are pervasive problems involving gang violence, education and medical care, according to an annual report.

The report, released this month, is written by court-appointed monitor Will Harrell, who oversees an agreement between the state and youth advocates who sued over conditions in the system.

The Columbus Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/VgExkH) that Harrell found that administrators have been successful in reducing the number of offenders in secure confinement and spreading services for youthful offenders around Ohio.

But he also wrote that there are several "ongoing deficiencies" that must be addressed.

For example, he wrote that the Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility near Canton still has too many incidents of violence.

"Youth gangs still exert a powerful negative influence at Indian River, and concerns remain about the high rate of fights and physical restraints," he wrote.

He also wrote that teacher absences contributed to a number of canceled classes at Indian River and the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility in Delaware north of Columbus, and that some teachers aren't getting the job done.

At Scioto, "some staff demonstrated an inability to effectively maintain order, and youth in several classrooms slept, walked around, or engaged in conversations unrelated to school," the report said.

The report found problems with medical files at all four state facilities, and it said records aren't always accessible to everyone trying to create treatment programs for youth.

The report also said that psychiatric services and hours at all the prisons are inadequate, and a disproportionate number of black inmates aren't placed in mental-health units.

Four years ago, the state settled a 2004 lawsuit alleging that a culture of violence permeated the youth prisons system. The settlement called for continuing review of the state's progress in making agreed-to changes.

The state says that the agreement should be concluded because the agency is a different organization today and should be concluded.

"We are carrying out our mission of improving Ohio's future by habilitating youth and empowering families and communities," youth-prisons spokeswoman Kim Parsell said in a statement.

Attorneys for youth inmates said that the recent report found possible violations of inmates' federal rights in 44 areas.

The attorneys also say that now is not the time to end the agreement when possible upcoming cuts to the youth-prisons budget could "put a severe strain on its ability to achieve constitutional compliance."

The system once had more than 2,000 juvenile inmates; it now houses about 600.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com