At least two Ohio juvenile courts are now investigating whether to continue sending teens to a drug treatment facility in the wake of an exclusive WKYC Channel 3 News investigation.
Another county spokesman told The Investigator Tom Meyer that they stopped sending teens to the facility – Abraxas Ohio in Shelby - years ago because of abuse allegations.
A team from Cuyahoga County Juvenile court visited Abraxas on Thursday. A spokeswoman said the team intended to interview four Cleveland-area boys currently housed at Abraxas. The team also planned to tour the facility.
The court sent the team to the facility a day after a WKYC Channel 3 News report that focused on former Abraxas employees and clients, all of whom made allegations of physical abuse, sexual encounters with staff and little to no drug counseling.
Abraxas Ohio is owned by the GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest private prison companies. They have denied any wrongdoing. A spokesman did not immediately respond for comment about Thursday’s development.
“When the Court learned of the allegations today, we immediately dispatched a team to the facility to interview the four youths placed there from our Court and to inspect the facility. If we find the allegations have any merit the Court will take immediate action which could include relocating our youth to another facility,” spokeswoman Mary Davidson said in an email.
She declined to elaborate on the investigation.
“We will share results when available,” she said.
Orvel Johns, a spokesman for the Franklin County Juvenile Court, said on Thursday that the judges have ordered their own investigation of Abraxas. The move came after the court was made aware of the WKYC Channel 3 News report.
“We are conducting our own review and investigation of the allegations and are likely to suspend referrals until we conclude that inquiry,” Johns said.
Abraxas houses about 100 teenaged boys with addiction issues. The teens are primarily poor and Abraxas is paid through tax dollars. Ohio Medicaid paid more than $9 million last year.
Summit County currently has five teens housed at Abraxas, Don Ursetti, a court spokesman, said Thursday.
Ursetti would not say if the court intends to investigate the facility as courts in Cuyahoga and Franklin counties have done. Rather, he said, Summit County juvenile court will "monitor" the developments and take action, if appropriate.
Courts in Lake and Stark county stopped sending teens to Abraxas more than three years ago. A Stark County spokesman said a variety of reasons contributed to the decision, but abuse was not cited.
Lake County Juvenile Court Judge Karen Lawson said Thursday that cuts in state funding caused her to seek other treatment options more than five years ago. She was not aware of any abuses.
In Geauga County, however, the director of the county Jobs and Family Services said they stopped sending kids to Abraxas a few years ago after learning of complaints regarding excessive restraints and physical abuse.