March 29, 2005 The ills of the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix were the focal point of discussion at a Senate Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee hearing Tuesday.
At the hearing, called to take testimony from the Human Services Department, which oversees the YRC, senators probed conditions facing juvenile residents of the center.
The YRC is a 20-bed facility that provides social services, nutrition, limited education and recreation for pre-trial youth; adjudicated delinquents; adolescents legally transferred to adult status for committing serious offences, including murder, and detainees by the Office of Immigration and Naturalization Services.
As of Tuesday, 13 adolescents are residing at the center.
Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert told the committee that the center has its share of problems, but despite recent media reports that refer to the center as a breeding ground for criminals, the department is doing its best to provide services for the territory's delinquent juveniles.
"The mixing of populations in a confined setting and in a grossly inadequate physical plant creates serious problems for the minors and the staff," Halbert said.
In order to remedy problems arising from housing youth with violent behavior from the other residents at the center, Halbert said her department recently completed two new dormitories and a multipurpose room at the compound.
"The new facility is designed to house status offenders and detainees only," Halbert said. She added that a treatment program, "Hard to Manage Females," is slated to open at the center in May.
Halbert said limited medical and mental health services are provided to YRC residents through V.I. Behavioral Services. Behavioral Services currently provides six programs offered by Human Services, including some at the YRC, for a total cost of about $3.4 million.
"We understand that the Youth Rehabilitation Center in its present state cannot address the needs of minors, and reform is the highest priority," Halbert said. "While reform is required, the facility should not be a main option for providing treatment. YRC is what happens in the absence of strong prevention and treatment programs to adequately deal with children and youth in crisis."
Committee Chairman Sen. Usie Richards, asked about the number of staff at the center.
Asiah Clendinen, Human Services' director of human resources, said there are four supervisors and 28 correction officers at the center. Clendenin indicated that of those employees, seven are currently out on extended leave. One female supervisor has been on workmans compensation for two years, and a corrections officer has been on workmans compensation for four years. Two officers have been on leave for six months, and another has been on leave for a year and a half. Another officer has been on military leave with the National Guard and will return early in April.
"We're unable to fill their positions," Clendinen said, adding that because the employees are receiving workman's compensation their positions within the department are not considered vacant. Clendinen said the Office of Management and Budget currently lists no vacancies.
Halbert said the department is waiting for OMB to open 12 new positions for the center. "We are at a point where we're still negotiating," Halbert said.
Sen. Neville James asked whether Human Services had any plans to open a similar youth rehabilitation facility on St. Thomas.
"That has been the request from our judges," Halbert said. "There is significant benefit to us and a cost saving to our government if a similar facility is built on St. Thomas."
However, Halbert indicated that she doesn't have the resources to undertake such a project at this time.
Sen. Lorraine L. Berry informed Halbert that she was currently working on legislation to develop a motivational boot camp. Berry said something must be done for youth between the ages of 18 and 22 who are repeatedly involved in criminal activity.
The committee also took testimony from Halbert about the administrative and fiscal status of Human Services as a whole.
Human Services provides financial and other forms of assistance to individuals who are poor, qualifying families with children, people with disabilities, and senior citizens. The Food Stamp Program and food assistance are the largest of department's many programs.
Berry told Halbert it was time to consider merging Human Services with the Health Department, adding that such a move could only serve to make the department more efficient. Berry said there was a need to centralize the services provided by the two agencies.
"That would probably be the most difficult task," Halbert said, but added it's "doable."
Halbert said she is currently seeking a feasibility study on the matter. She said the department is also working toward several goals, including: relocating the Queen Louise Home for the Aged, starting full operation of the west wing of the Herbert Griggs Home for the Aged on St. Croix, expanding the YRC campus to accommodate sports activities, and providing grant awards to community groups and organizations to operate prevention programs for adolescents.
For the first time since 1994, funding for the Crisis Intervention Act was made available to the department, Halbert said.
Committee members present at the hearing included: Sens. Berry, Liston Davis, Pedro Encarnacion, James, Norman Jn Baptiste and Richards. Sen. Craig Barshinger was absent. Sens. Louis P. Hill and Celestino White, who are not members of the committee, were also present.
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