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Those prison-reform advocates who think the path to rehabilitation lies in avoiding any discipline that might discomfort detainees might want to take a look at what is happening in a system that is even further under the public's radar than Rikers Island: the city's juvenile-justice facilities.
Social Service Employees Local 371 of District Council 37, which represents the Youth Development Specialists who supervise the teenage detainees at the Horizon and Crossroads Juvenile Centers, sounds very much like the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association in its laments of what members are up against, including a staff shortage that is largely the result of assaults by their charges.
Where COBA has criticized Mayor de Blasio for not hiring more officers, Local 371 President Anthony Wells told this newspaper's Crystal Lewis that the Administration for Children's Services has done its best to provide reinforcements as needed. The problem, he and Vice President Darek Robinson said, is that their members are being beaten up faster than they can be replaced.
ACS confirmed that as of Sept. 30, 170 Youth Development Specialists—from a staff of 608—were receiving Workers' Compensation because of serious assaults by the teens, and Crossroads in Brooklyn was just as hazardous to their health as Horizon in The Bronx.
Besides the physical pummeling, staff who are still able to report to work are being worn down mentally by being switched from their normal 7-hour tours to taking on steady 12-hour shifts that, according to Mr. Robinson, often are extended to 16-to-18-hour ones. As a result, he said, many YDS workers are "burned out."
The increase in assaults over the past three years has coincided with the transfer three years ago from Rikers Island to the juvenile facilities of 16- and 17-year-old detainees under the Raise the Age Act. That law was designed to separate those teens from older inmates, believing it offered a better chance of rehabilitating them and prevented them from being preyed on or enlisted into gangs by the older inmates in the jail system.
But one consequence has been that detainees of that age are now bullying younger offenders and juvenile-center staff who often lack the training or the military background that give Correction Officers a fighting chance to stand up to detainees—when they aren't being restricted by "reforms" that have wound up leading to increased violence against officers, civilian staff and more-vulnerable detainees.