Youth Development Specialists, the title created to work with 16- and 17-year old offenders, will begin working at Horizon Juvenile Center in a few weeks, more than six months after Raise the Age became law.
The Bronx facility houses 16- and 17-year old teens moved from Rikers Island, who were no longer considered adult offenders after the legislation took effect Oct. 1. About 20 adolescents from Rikers Island remain at Horizon, in addition to about 40 newly-arrested teens.
COs Doing It Reluctantly
The juvenile center has been staffed by Correction Officers since Sept. 27, the day the first teens were moved from Rikers. The Correction Officers Benevolent Association fought against its members being stationed at the facility, which is jointly operated by the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Correction.
ACS said it planned to hire 600 Youth Development Specialists, who are represented by District Council 37’s Local 371, over two years. So far more than 350 have been brought on.
All of the appointees have been sent to Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brooklyn, which houses newly arrested teens, because it was understaffed, according to both the agency and the union.
But both Local 371 and COBA have questioned why Youth Development Specialists weren’t sent to Horizon from the start, especially because there were several violent eruptions during the month following the transfer. According to a report by the Federal monitor appointed in the Nunez case, there were 59 use-of-force incidents that resulted in 31 teens being injured during the first 16 days Horizon was operating. One fight in the cafeteria produced injuries to two Correction Captains and 16 Correction Officers.
Short on Training?
Both unions argued that the teens weren’t getting the counseling they needed. Last year, COBA President Elias Husamudeen said that his members spent just 35 hours learning safe-crisis-management, while ACS staff spent eight weeks on the topic.
Youth Development Specialists were supposed to be in place at Horizon from the beginning but the city kept pushing back the date, according to the union. Now 48 of them and six Associate Youth Development Specialists, a supervisory title, will be transferred to the Bronx facility.
Alex Parker, a grievance representative for Local 371, said that although the union wanted its members to be at the facility the day it opened, it was important for new hires to become acclimated to working with the adolescent offenders, particularly because Horizon had a rougher population.
“We didn’t want to rush them in,” he said.
Big Drop in Violence
He noted that safety at the facility had improved, especially as the Rikers population dwindled. “The violence has decreased tremendously and we believe it will decrease more when YDS are brought in,” he said.
Mr. Parker added that the presence of Youth Development Specialists would be beneficial to program counselors, who come up with activities for the teens and were brought into the facility in October after several violent incidents occurred.
“Nobody really talks about them but they have a really hard time,” he said. “Imagine trying to work to calm these teens down and there’s a CO standing right outside. Their job is extremely difficult without YDS’s.”
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