The high levels of violence and increasing use of force at Horizon Juvenile Center, which houses 16- and 17-year old offenders, highlight a “culture of disorder that will be difficult to transform,” the Federal Monitor tasked with overseeing reforms aimed at reducing jail violence wrote in a report released Oct. 28.

The monitoring team examined assaults at Horizon, which is jointly operated by the Department of Correction and the Administration for Children’s Services. Adolescent offenders have been housed at the facility since about 90 teens were moved there from Rikers Island when the Raise the Age law took effect Oct. 1 2018.

Transfers Led to Brawls

Several brutal brawls erupted during the weeks following Horizon’s opening, including one in the facility’s cafeteria that resulted in two Correction Captains and 16 Correction Officers being injured.

The correction experts noted that high rates of violence and uses of force against youthful offenders were “persistent causes for concern” prior to the teens being moved to Horizon. It found that the average use-of-force rate among 16- and 17-year olds, which is calculated using the facility’s average daily population, has jumped 187 percent between 2016 and this past June.

Despite the fact that the rate of youth-on-youth violence has slightly decreased (it averaged 51.2 per 100 youth in October 2018 and by June dipped to 44.8) since Raise the Age took effect, use-of-force rates were higher in June than during Horizon’s chaotic opening weeks. The use-of-force rate was 97.7 during the facility’s first full month of operations, then fluctuated but remained below the October 2018 average until May, when the rate reached 100, then peaked at 105.2 in June.

The population at the facility has dwindled from about 90 to 55. Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen, which represents the Correction Officers staffed at Horizon, said that it even if the number of teens has decreased, “that doesn’t mean the behavior changes.”

Lost Key Deterrent

He added that controlling the teens became more difficult without the use of OC spray, which was prohibited. “We spend most of our day trying to prevent adolescents from assaulting one another,” and that’s what’s driven the use-of-force rate up, he explained.

The report noted that a handful of teens accounted for a large portion of use-of-force incidents: 17 adolescents had 10 or more uses of force during their time at the facility, totaling 225 uses of force. Overall, there have been 440 use-of-force incidents at Horizon since the Rikers Island inmates were moved to the facility in late September 2018. The report noted that about half of the time, or during 228 incidents, at least one staff member or teen was injured.

That finding was similar to what was presented in the Mayor’s Management Report released in mid-September. The city found that staff injuries as a result of being assaulted by the teens being held in city juvenile centers rose from 0.07 to 0.30 for every 100 detainees between July 2018 and June 2019.

The monitoring team attributed the rising rates of violence to several factors, including flaws in Horizon’s former behavior management system, a failure to house minimum- and maximum-custody youth separately or appropriately classify them, and under-use of room confinement for the most-unruly teens.

Found Staff Lacking

It also blamed “staff’s lack of skill in developing effective relationships and constructive rapport with youth, their lack of situational awareness, and their tendency to either over- or under-react to escalating tensions.”

The team did praise STRIVE+, Horizon’s improved behavior management system that was rolled out following the period monitored in the report. The program allows teens to earn points that entitle them to phone calls, food and other rewards, and its “implementation should help to quell the high levels of disorder the Facility is currently experiencing,” the report stated.

Correction Officers are scheduled to leave Horizon in December. DOC began transitioning COs out of the facility in August and will retain 29 of them until the fall of 2020, according to the agency.

Mr. Husamudeen noted that Youth Development Specialists, the title created to work with the teen offenders represented by Local 371 of District Council 37, have faced an increase in attacks as the number of COs have dwindled.

“I don’t think Horizon should be staffed only by YDS,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for YDS to handle things once we’re gone.”

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