The Department of Human Services will be "directed" to develop a "comprehensive care program for females in the Youth Rehabilitation Center and the Juvenile Justice System" if a bill sent to the floor by unanimous vote of the Rules Committee is enacted into law. Bills creating a new commission to recommend pay levels for top government officials, and allocating traffic fines to police, courts and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles were also sent on for final Senate approval.
Sen. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, who sponsored the female care measure, spoke of the unique needs of young women in the juvenile justice system and the possibilities for abuse and neglect they face.
Rivera-O’Reilly cited a study she said indicated girls can be victims three times in the juvenile justice system: in the home; as victims of discrimination in the courts and institutions; and then as victims of neglect once inside the system.
When the bill was heard in committee on April 8, officials engaged in rehabilitation services for youth testified that gender specific programs have value. 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 already has programs of that sort.
The bill "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," Josiah said.
If the goal is to enhance the programs, it will need money, she 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," Josiah said.
Rivera-O’Reilly offered an amendment Wednesday, changing the bill from saying Human Services is "authorized" to create the "comprehensive care program" to saying Human Services is "directed" to create it.
Senators were strongly supportive.
Sen. Neville James said, "I think it is a very straightforward mandate and I look forward to seeing the fruits of the comprehensive care program once it is adopted by this body and forwarded to the governor for his approval."
Sen. Jean Forde said he supported the measure but said he wanted to see it amended to create similar programs for males in the juvenile justice system – a concern he raised when the bill was heard in committee April 8.
The bill has no funding. Human Services officials previously testified it would need funding in order to be carried out.
Voting to send the mandate on to the Senate floor for a final vote were Forde, James, Rivera-O’Reilly, Sens. Novelle Francis, Justin Harrigan, Janette Millin Young and Kenneth Gittens.