Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Amy Howell fired director Todd Weeks of Eastman YDC and announced a new direction by hiring George Smith formally of the Georgia Department of Corrections. But is this new direction just another trip down the same road? It appears that the new direction will solely a change at the director’s position. The changes needed won’t be forthcoming soon. The new direction is needed at every DJJ facility including the two in Columbus Aaron Cohn RYDC and Muscogee YDC
Eastman Youth Development Campus holds the oldest, meanest and toughest inmates in the juvenile system. They are youth that have been convicted as adults. They have committed multiple murders, rapes strong arm robberies and are members of the multitudes of gangs that have spread across America like cancerous disease. These youths are 19-21 years old. They are as old as the soldiers we are send to fight the war on terror. Some have even been trained in military tactic and weapons by gang members who served in the military to bring those skills back to the streets.
These youth attacked officers on two separate days in the same week, January 31 and February 2 of 2011. The January 31 required assistance from 5 separate agencies to put out fires and to physically place the 60 inmates in their cells. One officer was beaten with a broom handle. The February 2nd event 5 youth attacked an officer. In both cases officers had to receive medical care for their injuries. There was a riot in May of 2010 to cover for an escape attempt.
Current and former officers may have a differing direction than Commissioner Howell. Officers see the problem as being one of intellectual disconnect between the leadership in Decatur Georgia and the YDCs and RYDCs they run. Policy is written with the 13 to 15 year old first offenders in mind. Staff Presence and verbal intervention skills can deter younger youth from assaulting staff. But these policies for children are ineffective when applied toward full grown, well fed, motivated gang members. Several officers standing in front of inmates looking intense issuing orders will get the officers beaten in Eastman.
Staff and officers complain of long hours of mandatory overtime with no extra pay. They say, “How can you be alert when working 12-16 hours a day with no break. No break because there is no one to relieve you to eat or use the bathroom because there was no one to relieve you at the end of the shift.” Former and current officer complain of rampant absenteeism. The same officers are late or no shows for days on end. Supervisors reluctant to write disciplinary reports because when the officer does show they are at least here that day. If they fire him/her it may be months before they can hire somebody.
Officer state they are demoralized and ready to look for something else if they could find something else. Officers state that they have negative views of the leadership in Decatur. Every time they bring up problems to higher up the response is “it is not about you” or “If you can’t hack it, get your jacket.” Former long time officer stated he had seen similar attitudes before. He said during the Korean War the Chinese would send human waves against US positions. They were expended like ammunition. He stated he felt the Decatur leadership saw the JCO’s as expendable and replaceable.
Officers who spoke on condition of anonymity were very clear in their reasoning. They stated that very few of the upper leadership had ever manned a post. They had never been in a riot. Most of the leadership went from College to Decatur with no experience in the field. Female officer stated that many higher ups could never understand their situation where you are proposition for sex or threaten by rape on a daily basis. No one interviewed for this article could confirm it but there are rumors that female staff bribes youth to behave with sex. Cases of exploitation of inmates were made at Bill Ireland YDC in Milledgeville in 2008. Many could state for a fact that staff male and female had bribed youth with prepaid phones, drugs or weapons. Those who were found out were prosecuted.
The very fact that Eastman had to call for help from fellow Law Enforcement is a clear indicator that the current Safe Crisis Management training is ineffective at Eastman. Safe Crisis Management replaced the former Physical Control Measures. PCM had various strikes, kicks and holds that used pain to force compliance. It is or was used by every police agency in America. Safe Crisis Management has no blows or kicks and is exclusively painless holds. They are effective if the officer is facing one youth who is smaller than the officer. The hold is applied to hold the youth in place until he calms down and no harm is done to the youth. But when the officer is out numbered 10 or 20 to 1 these holds are worthless.
Officers stated they had to ask for outside help. JCO’s are not trained in combat. They have no night sticks or guns. Pepper spray was just returned to use on Eastman. They are the only facility to use it. Standard Policy for use of deadly force is to withdraw from the area and send in outside help.