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Quit the Systematic Neglect of Our Children

Dear Source:
Several weeks ago I wrote a letter regarding the neglect of the youths being housed at the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix. As of today the situation remains the same. Young men and women are simply detained in a substandard environment, without access to any meaningful programs to assist them with behavior modification. The daily hours of instructional time they are entitled to is limited to anywhere from zero to just over an hour, and to make matters worst, there is no vocational training available whatsoever. The recycled leadership, bankrupt of new methods in approaching the escalating problem with our troubled youth population, reaps great rewards for continuing to systematically fail our children. The end result of this form of cruelty to humans is notably documented in the increasing crime statistics, and the sense of hopelessness radiated by our young people.
It is inevitable that all children will steer away from trouble, and will thereby become engaged with the judicial system. This community should insist that youths remanded to YRC, are provided with a well rounded education and vocational training so that they can become contributing members of our community.
During the campaign Governor deJongh promised a "future of opportunity for the children", yet today many of our children are gone astray. The children, who are crying out for help, are being victimized at the juvenile facility under his stewardship. Eleven months since the deJongh administration took over the reigns of government; there is no change, no hope and no clear vision on of the promise our governor made.
During his speech at an activity held at the facility, Governor deJongh offered to seek three million dollars to improve the aging facility, however, he failed to offer any change in policy or make mention of any initiative his administration will pursue, to guarantee that the residents are afforded a fair chance to succeed in life.
Chris Finch, the commissioner of the Department of Human Services, which has oversight of the facility, during his confirmation hearing, attributed the inability of the department to provide treatment services, to the short period of time most of the population stays at YRC. What Commissioner Finch failed to mention, is the fact that the children who are remanded to YRC for an extended period of time, do not receive any substantive rehabilitative services to help them transform their lives. The shortage of services causes the residents that are released to revisit the facility, sometimes just days after they were released. Some have confronted death on our streets, and lost their life. The term recidivism seems oblivious to Mr. Finch.
At the aforementioned hearing, neither Mr. Finch, nor any member of his team, offered any new approach to addressing the needs of the youths in crisis. When was the last time we heard of any new initiative aimed at reducing juvenile delinquency coming from their lips? Business as usual seems to be the methodology being employed.
The infrastructure at YRC literally stinks, the ceiling and floors crumbling and the morale of the staff shattered. The management team at our facility lacks the motivation, innovation and moral commitment to fix the problems. They are fragmented oftentimes engaging in war over trivial matters. This situation contributes to the lack of commitment on their part to take care of the daily problems plaguing the institution. The rust stains on the walls, peeling paint coating and crumbling ceiling are obvious attributes of their mismanagement.
The limited counseling staff responsible for providing the residents of the facility with an array of intervention services has been reassigned by the Director of Treatment, to manage the laundry. The Department refuses to hire more counseling staff to help the residents with their problems. On four days of any given week there is only one counselor on staff, expected to service the four dorms at YRC.
The security officers are forced to work long hours due to staff shortages. Recently the youths housed in the new dorms were moved to the old dorm area. No officer showed up for duty to relief the previous shift. While the officers did their best to keep the facility in operation with a skeleton staff of three, the Chief of Security, Superintendent and the balance of management staff were all missing in action.
The commingling of serious offenders with other youths housed here for petty charges continues. The department heads promised that the two populations would be segregated once the new dorms were constructed, but failed to follow through on their word. The end result of this travesty is the ignorance of the population being housed for petty charges, being replaced with the criminal experiences of the more serious offenders.
The community expects that children who are remanded to the facility be empowered through counseling, education and other therapeutic services. This institution is not meeting its mandate. It is inhumane to restrict the population at YRC to their rooms, while neglecting their rights to an education and rehabilitative services. Governor deJongh must intervene with the "future of opportunities" he promised.
Gonzalo Rivera
St. Croix

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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