Teen Girls Housed With Sex Offenders in Controversial Wichita Program

PHOTO: On July 22, police in Wichita, Kansas, investigated allegations of sexual assult at an apartment that houses both juvenile offenders, including sex offenders, and foster teens as young as 16. The apartment is part of Ozanams Pathway program, whichCourtesy of Ozanam
On July 22, police in Wichita, Kansas, investigated allegations of sexual assult at an apartment that houses both juvenile offenders, including sex offenders, and foster teens as young as 16. The apartment is part of Ozanam's Pathway program, which helps otherwise homeless youth transition into "independent" and "self-sufficient" adults.

A state-funded residential program in Kansas was recently investigated for housing foster girls as young as 16 with juvenile criminal offenders, including "gang members, sex offenders and drug dealers."

Since 2008, there have been 142 police incidents reported from the complex, operated by the Ozanam Pathways program, including three allegations of rape, according to Wichita police Deputy Cheif Tom Stolz.

Stolz said that authorities completed an investigation of Ozanam Pathways's apartment complex in Wichita last week, but found no evidence of an "acute public safety matter," noting that "food was in the fridge," and "the premise was clean."

But the deputy chief was not convinced that housing young girls with male juvenile offenders, some as old as 21, made sense.

"That is a questionable policy that we would put those kids in same proximity in one another," Stolz told ABCNews.com.

"They are put in contact with manipulators or predators who sell drugs or already had sexual assault on their records or run with gangs who are very savvy and sophisticated. As a police officer for 30 years, that doesn't make good policy sense to me, for whatever that's worth," he said.

At the Ozanam Pathways apartment in Wichita, five teenage girls, classified as "child in need of care," and the 10 males, some of whom are juvenile offenders, live in separate apartments in a complex on West University. They also share a common court yard space in the middle of the complex.

Ozanam president Doug Zimmerman said the Pathways program has a similar arrangement for "child in need of care" teen girls and juvenile offenders, including sex offenders, in their supervised apartment in Kansas City.

Program Questioned for Housing Runaway Teen Girls With Male Juvenile Offenders

The Kansas Justice Juvenile Authority, which retains custody of offenders and refers some of them to Ozanam's pathway program, said in a statement to ABCNews.com that they are working to reform the current system, but that change requires action from the state legislature, and "it cannot be solved overnight."

Stolz said that conditions at Ozanam Pathways apartment in Wichita were brought to police attention by a former employee on July 18.

"A former employee at Ozanam's Pathway raised allegations that sex offenders living at the apartments on West University have too much contact with foster teens at the property," Stolz said.

The officer said that a three-day investigation was conducted by the Wichita Police Department and Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, but no charges were filed.

The complaint has highlighted concerns about the policy that exists at other facilities besides Ozanam Pathways.

In a statement to ABCNews.com, the Justice Juvenile Authority said, "Under the current system, which has been in use for several years, both juvenile offenders and child in need of care youth are housed together in supervised community-based residential placements."

"JJA has been working on reforming the system to prohibit such shared placements, but it should be noted that adjustments to the current system require not only administrative changes but action from the Kansas legislature."

The most serious accusation from Ozanam Pathway youth who live in the Wichita complex was the three rape allegations made over the last three years. In December 2009 a 19-year-old male was accused of rape. In July 2010 an 18-year-old was accused, and in October 2010 a 17-year-old was accused of rape, according to Stolz.

Rape Accusations At Wichita Center for Runaway Teens

Detectives from the Wichita Police Department, as well as workers from the Social Rehabilitation Services, investigated all three rape charges. In all cases, the victims chose not to prosecute.

Stolz described the young girls, many of whom are chronic runaway cases, as "impressionable," often with "myriad complex social issues."

Zimmerman defended the program and said that this practice is common in Kansas and Missouri, in accordance with their state policies.

He said the teenage girls are in a "safe environment" at both apartment complexes, which have 24-hour adult supervision. He also referred to the former employee who made the complaint about the Wichita apartment as an "upset employee who was laid off."

"We work closely with other Kansas agencies whether it's Justice Juvenile Authority or Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. They have come in based on [the former employee's] complaints and they have taken a look at our program and have found no safety issues," Zimmerman said.

In response to the rape allegations, he said, "I know that the police investigated and the allegations were not upheld, so far as I know the allegations weren't true."

Zimmerman said that most of the 142 cases from the Wichita apartments reported to police involve multiple reports about juveniles who had run away or gone missing.

"When we have a youth that runs away for example, then we will contact the appropriate authorities, and that may be three or four different organizations that we contact that would also be part of that same incident. Most of those reports that we have would relate to that kind of thing," he said.

Zimmerman said that he believes Ozanam Pathways helps troubled youth from "falling through the cracks" in the system.

"When you look at these kids that have behavioral problem maybe the question is, would you rather have those kids living on their own in the community, or rather have program like Pathways providing services for them to get them to be employed?" Zimmerman asked. "I think that's an important piece not to loose and that's our goal."