One of he latest examples is a once-smoldering crisis at the Pendleton Juvenile Correction Facility 25 miles north of Indianapolis. It's an all-male maximum-security facility with 391 beds and is operated by the Indiana Department of Corrections. An AP story by Charles Wilson June 5 http://www.journalgazette.net/article/20100605/NEWS07/306059955/1006/NEWS) revealed the results of a study of sexual abuse by staff members and teenage inmates against other residents -- In fact, Pendleton had one of the highest rates of sexual abuse in the United States, Indiana’s corrections commissioner told a federal Review Panel on Prison Rape. Commissioner Edwin G. Buss vowed to take steps to prevent further abuse.
A January Bureau of Justice Statistics report said 36 percent of youths there reported being sexually assaulted by staff or other teens, a rate three times the national average.
The U.S. Department of Justice also is investigating four female staffers who were arrested this year on charges they exchanged explicit cell phone photos or engaged in sex acts with an 18-year-old male inmate. All four were fired.
Among the other steps being taken, according to Wilson's article:
• Emphasizing the policy of zero tolerance for sexual contact.
• Removing solid doors to coat closets and storage rooms to eliminate blind areas.
• Relocating cameras to provide a view of blind spots, installing cameras in laundry and kitchen areas, and creating a video monitoring room that is staffed 18 hours a day.
• Changing hiring to better select staff to work with youth, and considering staff psychological assessments.
It all sounds like good stuff. But I would quarrel with the communications strategy in two areas. First, Pendleton sat on the study for several months. That's okay, as long as the communications staff was prepared for if and when the news got out. There is nothing here to indicate that staff didn't move quickly to implement changes while it was waiting for the sudden crisis to occur. Who are the real stakeholders here? I would say the local board, the state detention board, the commissioner, and elected officials. I hope they all were notified personally before this hit the news.
A bigger issue is the website. Every news release is "bunnies and fluffy clouds." There's no bad news, no mention of the studies, no message from the Pendeton superintendent or the state commissioner about the abuse. That's why I started this post talking about credibility. If all your news releases do is describe wonderful programs, and creative-writing class, and awards, do you still have credibility?
If your smoldering crises go public, you should tell what you've done to correct the problems, sometimes in a news release and almost always on your website. Here is a chance to get out your side of the story. You (and Legal) have complete control over the message. Use it to your advantage. And don't shy away from negative news.