Staff injuries in city juvenile centers quadrupled during a recent 12-month period, with the transfer of 16- and 17-year-old offenders from Rikers Island to the Horizon Juvenile Center under the state’s Raise the Age Law generally regarded as the prime reason.
As city Correction Officers continue to be phased out of their duties at Horizon, Youth Development Specialists are about to be equipped with stab-resistant vests to protect them from the assaultive teens in their care, the worst of whom tend to be gang members.
The union representing those employees, Social Services Employees Local 371 of District Council 37, hailed that plan, with its vice president for grievances, Darek Robinson, telling this newspaper’s Crystal Lewis it was “a major victory for members.”
He then explained, “The YDS’s have been recovering weapons, despite our efforts to make sure they don’t get in.”
But he and another union vice president, Carl Cook, said problems still remain. Among them is that more of those sent to juvenile detention rather than Rikers are gang-affiliated and prevent a collective problem, and because they are older than the youths who previously made up the population in the centers, they are often bigger and therefore harder to subdue.
Compounding the problems they pose, Mr. Robinson said, is that when they assault staffers, “There’s really no consequences, so that’s why residents are extremely aggressive towards staff.”
Where have we heard that before? Why, at Rikers Island, where the correction unions for several years have protested that ending solitary confinement for teenage inmates took away the strongest deterrent the system had, with the result being those inmates became more difficult to control and mocked officers for their inability to curb their behavior with meaningful discipline.
More recently, complaints like this have been cropping up in city public schools, sometimes in those where there hadn’t been problems in the past. In those cases, a sharp rollback in suspensions seemed to have emboldened students; in two particularly egregious cases, the bad behavior did not result in school discipline despite it later becoming grounds to arrest the malefactors.
At some point, Mayor de Blasio should step off his ideological cloud and examine the impact the lack of real consequences is having in several different settings. What he and some of the advocates who have railed against mass-incarceration policies of the past seem to be missing is that the changes imposed on his watch are sometimes leading to a different kind of victimization in which the staffers, offenders who are not acting up and students who are being bullied are often also people of color.
Unless steps are taken to ensure that might doesn’t make right in the prisons, juvenile facilities and schools, such violence will remain a recurring problem.
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