83.2 F
Cruz Bay
Thursday, June 13, 2024


Senators were confronted with yet another problem-plagued government program Wednesday when staff and management of the Youth Rehabilitation Center testified before the Committee on Youth and Human Services on St. Croix.
While YRC employees recited the usual shortfalls plaguing most government agencies — staffing shortages, deteriorating facilities and a lack of training and equipment — they also told of questionable management practices and day-to-day operations that border on the illegal.
Stephanie Williams, a lieutenant at the YRC, told of breached security procedures, dangerous facilities and instances where wards who are being held for minor infractions, called "persons in need of supervision, or PINS," were housed with "hard-core criminals."
"YRC is a tragedy," Williams said. "It is sorry for any parent to have a child at YRC."
She said some PINS were shackled and held in lock-down, which is a violation of federal law. And on more than one occasion, wards in the YRC’s furlough program have failed to return to the facility. In one instance, she said, staff stopped looking for a youth once he turned 18.
Even David Molloy, YRC supervisor, who bore the brunt of Williams’ criticism, agreed that the facility was in dire need of help. He said it does not function as a rehabilitation center, because it lacks basic treatment and counseling services. Conditions at the facility also need to be addressed, he said.
"The physical plant is really, really a trap," Molloy said.
Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste said wards are often forced to relieve themselves in the corner of their cells in the middle of the night because of a lack of bathroom facilities and guards who don’t always respond promptly to their calls.
On a visit to the YRC facility, located in Estate Anna’s Hope on St. Croix, Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole said he saw three female wards in a cell with two beds. The third youth, a 14-year-old girl, had a bedroll laid out on the floor under one of the beds.
Meanwhile, Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert said pre-trial juveniles such as PINS facing contempt of court orders, adjudicated juveniles, and both pre-trial and sentenced youths — including those tried or to be tried as adults — are all held together.
Additionally, she said, the YRC, designed to house 27 male adolescents, is now housing 56 young people, 20 percent of them female.
To alleviate overcrowding, Halbert said, the department is set to use some $1.3 million in federal funds to construct a new facility next to the old Anna’s Hope center. Such an arrangement would help in separating PINS from hardened criminals, she said.
The current facility "isn’t constructed for youths who have committed hard-core crimes," she said. "It’s not a lock-down facility."
Halbert promised senators that she will try to meet with Attorney General Iver Stridiron to work out a plan to end the co-mingling of non-violent and violent youths.
Youth and Human Services Committee chair Judy Gomez said she would schedule another hearing in about two months to get a status update on conditions at the facility.
"We should have some positive things to report on how we’re progressing," she said.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.