The Department of Human Services will be "authorized" to develop a "comprehensive care program for females in the Youth Rehabilitation Center and the Juvenile Justice System" if a bill approved in committee is enacted into law.
"Girls involved in the juvenile delinquency system are more likely to face abuse," said Sen. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, the bill’s sponsor, introducing the measure to the Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee.
"Seven out of 10 end up in very painful or abusive relationships or living in poverty where unemployment and standing in line for SNAP (food stamps) and social services becomes the only things they do,” she said.
“When they struggle to be good parents, often that lifestyle leads to substance abuse," Rivera-O’Reilly said, adding that it is "hard to extricate them from that lifestyle and often their children follow them down that pathway."
Assistant Human Services Commissioner Telsalda Josiah gave qualified support to the measure, saying it could be of help, if it came with funding, but that the department does already have programs.
"If the bill seeks to enhance the current comprehensive plan of service and care utilized at YRC and in the Juvenile Justice Service Unit, a specific funding source to assist in further development of gender specific programs will be required," Josiah said. “Respectfully, such an endeavor would require hiring additional staff, training new and existing staff, and undertaking structural improvements to our current plant for which additional funds will be needed.”
Human Services believes the bill "as currently written authorizes a process that is currently performed and utilized at YRC and the Juvenile Justice Service Unit for not only females, but male residents and clients as well."
Sen. Kurt Vialet, the committee chairman, said he would offer an amendment to expand the bill to also authorize gender-based comprehensive plans for males.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Joseph Ponteen and officials with the Health Department and the private treatment entity The Village, Virgin Islands Partners in Recovery endorsed the idea of gender-specific programs.
The committee approved the bill unanimously, sending it on to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
The committee voted to hold for amendment a bill to mandate the creation of a task force on crime and public health, involving the heads of many V.I. government agencies. The task force would have to meet and perform tasks like conducting a cost-benefit analysis comparing preventative measures to criminal prosecution and produce reports for the Legislature.
Agency officials testified in support of the concept of data sharing and interagency cooperation but objected to an unfunded mandate.