Students are prescribed anti-psychotic medication at 16 times the number of diagnoses, and mental health evaluation and counseling remain "grossly inadequate." These are but a few of the many ongoing violations at the Oakley and Columbia juvenile training schools, according to federal court monitor Joyce Burrell.
On March 22, Burrell, who is tasked with ensuring that the state meets the terms of a consent decree that ended a Department of Justice lawsuit for egregious violations at the schools, filed her second report with the U.S. District Court in Jackson, covering the period from Aug. 1 to Dec. 15, 2005. The state, Burrell reported, has failed to meet the terms of the agreement in almost every area.
Burrell recognized the challenges facing the state, challenges that have only been compounded by damage and staffing shortages caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Unfortunately, reform is not coming quickly to the training schools. The phrase, "The state is not in compliance on this item," occurs at least 30 times. In fact, the state was in full compliance with the decree in only a few areas, such as providing vocational training for students. The training schools have desisted from their worst barbarities, such as use of the "Dark Room" at Columbia, where students were once stripped and shackled for hours at a time. Students are no longer hog-tied, shackled to poles or forced to eat their own vomit.
Still, the catalogue of failures is long. The training schools are struggling with their transformation from prisons where students were routinely tortured to institutions of learning and rehabilitation. The broadest failures concern protecting and maintaining student health. From suicide prevention, to mental health counseling, to medical records, to proper dental care, the schools are in institutional chaos. Even toothbrushes "are of the lowest quality and are not suitable for proper routing brushing," Burrell reported.
One of the most important issues facing the training schools is the use of force, since the schools have a long history of physically abusing students. As Burrell put it, "This is one of the key areas that had to be a first priority in any attempt to meet the requirements of the decree." Yet, only 10 of 200 staff members had been trained in preventing harm through use of force as of December. Students report that staff members curse at them and apply discipline inconsistently, which is forbidden by the decree, though none reported physical abuse by staff to Burrell. However, fights between students are still a regular occurrence.
Along with inadequate training, the schools are understaffed. Staff at Oakley have to work long overtime hours, which "compromises the quality of care to the youth," according to Burrell. The overtime policy is "unreasonable, as well as being unfair," because it forces staff to build up 100 hours of comp time before they are paid overtime at all. Because Oakley is short-staffed, there is little opportunity for staff to use comp time. Important positions such as a health services coordinator remain unfilled. Even the most basic staff issues, such as running criminal background checks, had not yet been completed, though the 120-day deadline set by the decree had long since passed.
See the full .pdf report here
I personally do not believe that staff shortages contribute to abuse of children in any manner, be it physical, verbal or emotional! Oakley and Columbia both have had a media reported history of continually having excuses and reasons as their response to allegations made by children and/or their family. I personally know a mother whose daughter became 'out-of-control' essentially following the divorce of the parents, a move to a new state, and hitting those terrible teen years. This mother tried everything, including placing herself in financial jeopardy by having her child attend therapy, counseling, etc. Finally, the juvenile court system sent the child to the training school for a period of 6 weeks. Before I continue, let me ensure you understand that this child is above average in intelligence and was struggling to 'center' herself after the many changes to her life. Three weeks after being committed to the training school, the mother received a call stating that her child was being put on a bus that would bring her back to Jackson as the staff could not 'do anything with her'. Ultimately, the child told her mother she had 'figured out' how to beat the system! She told the staff routinely that she 'saw dead people', engaged in agressive behavior to the staff, reportedly was 'choked down' by a male staff member, and was returned home with 2 broken fingers, which the staff would not provide a reason or explanation for. The mother eventually located a great facility that she placed her daughter in that had fantastic results and the child is back home, a happy, smart, teen with a precious personality. The point of this all, is that the training school has severe problems, and until someone with 'working knowledge of children and their behaviors' is responsible for the facility and willing to not allow ANY harm to come to children placed in the facility, we will continue to see additional allegations and media reports on THEIR failures!
- Katie D
[The point of this all, is that the training school has severe problems, and until someone with 'working knowledge of children and their behaviors' is responsible for the facility and willing to not allow ANY harm to come to children placed in the facility, we will continue to see additional allegations and media reports on THEIR failures!]
Watch out Katie. You just hit the system with an uppercut followed by a left hook. I'll take bets that that facility didn't make retribution for their inability to help that child. From you blog it seems that they didn't even try to help in finding some other place for her to go either.
It's so sad that this state worries about things that should come behind issues like this. When our political leaders are running for office, you will never hear anyone put our youth second. This sickens me that they will use the children to get our votes.
This is not true for all of the politicians, but for enough of them that these problems still exist. We are on the bottom. What are we doing to move from here? There was a giant push to get the casinos in here to boost up state revenue to provide money for moving us up from the bottom of the ladder. We are in the top five states in the country as far as how many casinos that we have running (I don't know where we are since Katrina), but what are we doing with the money?
The children, their educators, our medical personnel........these people only seem important when we need to get elected or bring in more money. Our youth are suffering. The future of the state is in jeopardy and the powers that be are pussyfooting around like they have all of the time in the world.
I wonder how much have their salaries and benefits risen over the past ten or fifteen years? I wonder how many years have we been on the bottom? I wonder if issues like this will ever change?
Thanks Brian for another well written article.
Stringfellow hits on this today in his column. He correctly calls for the training schools to be closed, and for community-based solutions that are more effective and more humane, as we outlined in our cover story 15 months ago.
This needs to happen, folks. Beat the drum.
I always tell everyone that I meet to PLEASE read the JFP. This paper has a history of telling us about things that we will "see" sooner or later. This article is another proof positive of how the JFP has covered the important stories that affect all of our lives.
I may be only one person, but if everyone that reads the JFP will start telling everyone else about it, then soon this paper will be exactly where it desperately need to be recognized worldwide..............#1.