COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state of Ohio plans to pour money and resources into its juvenile detention system after settling a lawsuit alleging serious violations.
The state is promising $30 million in additional annual spending and the hiring of more than 100 extra guards. It also will hire additional psychologists, nurses, social workers and teachers, improve its off-hours programs for children and revamp its program for sex offenders.
A report released late last year found Ohio's youth prisons are overcrowded and understaffed and fail to educate children behind bars or keep them safe. It also found cases of excessive use of force.
The settlement ends legal challenges that began in 2004 with allegations of excessive force being used against girls at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility.
A judge must still approve the settlement filed Thursday in federal court in Columbus.
The state is satisfied the agreement will bring much-needed change to the system, said Tom Stickrath, director of the Youth Services Department. He said the extra funding is a strain during tight budget times but eventually could lead to lower costs as the system improves.
The annual budget for the system, which serves about 1,700 children, is about $260 million.
"It's certainly a long-term investment in doing the right thing for the youth in our system, for the juvenile courts across the state and ultimately for the citizens," Stickrath said in an interview.
"It's a difficult time to be looking at any extra resources but I think it's a needed investment in our future," he said.
A veteran civil rights attorney who helped coordinate the lawsuit commended the state for settling.
"The plan safeguards public safety while working toward more youth being served in smaller, more appropriate, community-based facilities," said Cincinnati attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein.
The system has a troubled history.
In 2004, lawyers with the Children's Law Center of Kentucky sued the state over allegations of excessive force being used against girls at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility. Around the same time, the Department of Justice launched an investigation over the same allegations.
Twelve employees at the Scioto facility were eventually charged with abusing and endangering inmates and in early 2005 the agency's director was forced to resign.
A year ago, the Children's Law Center and other groups updated the 2004 suit to include the entire agency, saying the state had made inadequate progress on its promises to address their concerns.
In addition to overcrowding and excessive force, a report found that guards regularly place children in solitary confinement for inappropriately long periods of time, a practice that "is unconstitutional on its face" and should cease immediately.
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