Almost a year after the Raise the Age law increased the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, there has been a quadrupling of staff being injured by teens on the job, according to data recently released by the de Blasio administration and the union representing Administration for Children’s Services staff.
The Mayor’s Management Report found that the rate of 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 during the past fiscal year. That period—between July 2018 and June 2019—included the Oct. 1, 2018 transfer of 16- and 17-year olds from Rikers Island to Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx, which was jointly run by ACS and the Department of Correction.
‘Highest Workers’ Comp Rate’
“We have the highest rate of staff out on Worker’s Compensation in about 10 years,” said Darek Robinson, vice-president for grievances at Social Service Employees Union Local 371 of District Council 37, said during a Sept. 19 phone interview.
The union represents Youth Development Specialists, the title created to work with 16- and 17-year old offenders. One Specialist was assaulted by nine teens in a gang incident that resulted in a broken nose, according to grievance representative Alex Parker, who was president of Juvenile Center Employees Local 1457 before it merged with Local 371. Biting and spitting have also become common.
“I remember when kids lined up in size order and walked with their hands behind their backs,” he said. “Now they look like they’re out on the streets. I don’t think the spirit of the law has caught up with [ACS’s and DOC’s] management style, and I think they’re doing a disservice to these young people by not having more structure.”
Mr. Robinson also noted three incidents of teens ripping hair out of the scalps of female staff members.
“We do feel the agency should have more consequences for youth that assaults staff. Right now, there’s basically none,” he said.
ACS stated that it plans to implement a new behavior-management system, STRIVE, to encourage teens not to act out by giving them rewards such as snacks and an increased allotment of phone calls.
The management report stated that the reason why assaults against employees increased was because Crossroads began to simultaneously house juvenile delinquents (who are under 16 and have committed a crime), juvenile offenders (13, 14 and 15-year-olds who have committed a serious felony) and adolescent offenders (16- and 17-year olds charged with felonies) after Raise the Age took effect.
Mr. Robinson explained that it was “difficult” to keep the teens separated because the facility was not designed for that, but Mr. Parker said there was a more-pressing problem contributing to the rising injury rate.
‘It’s Gang Violence’
“A lot of it is gang violence. I don’t think it’s being properly addressed,” he said. The assaults have also contributed to low morale and retention issues, he stated.
Mr. Robinson believed that assaults increased at Crossroads after some Youth Development Specialists were moved from the Brooklyn facility to Horizon.
Union officials from both Local 371 and the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which represents the Correction Officers currently staffing Horizon, repeatedly advocated for the transfer of 16- and 17-year olds to be delayed, so that Youth Development Specialists could be trained in time to be in place at the Bronx facility immediately after the teens were moved from Rikers. Instead, all of the Youth Development Specialists who were initially hired and trained were sent to Crossroads.
“There was a lot of extra staff at Crossroads,” said Mr. Robinson. After about 200 YDS were sent to Horizon, there were more attacks against the 300 remaining Crossroads staff members.
An Ominous Departure
Mr. Parker was especially concerned about his members’ safety in the future because 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.
DOC spokesperson Latima Johnson said that the partnership of ACS and DOC "brought about a change in the culture at Horizon."
“Our Officers will continue to make Horizon a safe and productive facility as we complete this transition period,” she said.
But Mr. Parker said that he wasn’t optimistic about how that transition would go, and reiterated the union’s stance that the transfer of teens from Rikers should have been pushed back.
“It was too fast, and for such a volatile occupation, that can’t be good,” he said.
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