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Youth Corrections faces numerous deficiencies, study shows

17-Feb-2018

The Human Services Department has not responded publicly to an assessment of the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix that said the center is “deficient in all functional areas.”

The report, commissioned by former Human Services Commissioner Anita Roberts, was performed by Correctional Management and Communications Group, a Florida company that “provides technical assistance to local, state, federal and private correctional, law enforcement, military, and human services agencies throughout the United States and Caribbean,” according to its website.

The report was the topic of a legislative hearing last month, but little has been said in the weeks since about what the government is doing to address the many issues raised by analysts.

Human Services did not respond to a request for a copy of the report, and did not respond to an invitation for Commissioner Felecia Blyden to comment.

The facility is the detention site for juvenile offenders.

According to the report, numerous issues became evident during a five-day visit in which staff and residents were interviewed and “the team reviewed policies, procedures and other documents related to the facility’s operations.”

The assessment said “the perimeter of the facility is not secured due to the fact that in some areas, the security fencing has caved in and can be easily accessed from the inside and the outside.”

The assessment said the position of a corrections officer who “was physically posted at the entrance gate during resident visitation hours” had been done away with “due to the elimination of staff overtime. This change also resulted in family visitation being suspended for several weeks.”

The report also said management at the center reduced certain work posts “in response to staff overtime being discontinued in October 2016.”

It said educational classes are often cancelled “when housing officers have to provide supervision for residents in solitary confinement or for residents not assigned to school.”

The use of solitary confinement as a control mechanism was common but is prohibited by Department of Justice restrictive housing guidelines, the report noted.

Referring again to solitary confinement, it said: “According to staff and residents, restrictive housing is used on a regular basis for major and minor rule infractions.”

The report said residents “are held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day with one hour outside their room, up to 15 days for disciplinary infractions.”

Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly said Friday she had spoken to the director of the St. Croix facility, and had been told that solitary confinements “were not occurring.”

O’Reilly said: “When I became aware of the report it took me some time to receive a copy. I realized the delay was because the findings were very serious and shameful.”

The reported noted numerous paperwork and record-keeping problems regarding staff training, maintaining awareness of rules and regulations, availability of orientation material for detainees, the sharing of information about the required zero-tolerance policy regarding incidents or suspicion of sexual abuse or harassment, and the fact that records regarding detainees are not maintained in confidentiality.

It noted that while policies and procedures exist, “a review of the manual reveals no updates have been made to the policies and procedures since 1998.”

It said staff rely on word-of-mouth or instruction from managers regarding what it called post orders, and said residents who were interviewed said in most cases, they “learn the ropes from each other” regarding rules and policies.

The report said residents “are not informed of many of their basic individual rights, verbally and in writing, during the admission process.” It said that all staff must understand “and afford each resident his/her rights, and that basic rights are not contingent on good behavior.”

O’Reilly said: “The reality is that this is a population that no one wants to deal with. As a society, particularly as Christians, we need to recognize the selfishness and lack of compassion that we display. This is clear in the area of students with learning disabilities, as well as individuals with mental illness.”

The report outlined how male residents had been housed in what is known as the Courtyard Housing Unit, which “borders on inhumane conditions of confinement due to extreme temperatures in the cells during summer months, pests (mostly mosquitoes) constantly present in the open-air environment, cold water showers and the occasional drainage problem which produces a foul order in the housing unit.”

O’Reilly said she “was given a tour of the facility. It requires significant upgrade to convert it into a rehabilitation center. It was designed to treat youth offenders as prisoners rather than troubled young people.”

The report also said residents eat their three meals basically in the first shift of the day, and then go more than 14 hours without food between the evening meal, which is served at 4:30 p.m., and breakfast, which is served at 7 a.m.

O’Reilly said she had been assured that such extended delays in meals “were not occurring.”

The report said sanitation inspections in the food area are not documented, that inoperable equipment in the food area include the dishwasher, air conditioner, convection oven, outside freezer, and large can opener, and that the fire marshal had reported the sprinkler systems in Annex A and Annex B — intended to house low-risk male residents — were not working.

The report said “there was consensus amongst staff that morale is low due to a lack of resources, training, recognition and the lack of agency support.”

The report said Human Services needed to immediately address issues at the facility, as “failure to immediately correct noted deficiencies as recommended in this report will most certainly leave the facility vulnerable to a class action lawsuit regarding conditions of confinement.”

O’Reilly said she was pleased that former Commissioner Roberts “commissioned the study because it shows that she recognized the problem. It concerns me that the current leadership wants to pretend it doesn’t exist,” she said.

To read the original article, click here.

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