A consultant newly hired to give advice on reforming Colorado’s beleaguered youth corrections system says the system is “running fairly well,” but a Rocky Mountain PBS News analysis found both staff and youth in the system are suffering injuries and the state is footing the medical bills.
Last year, the state paid more than $1 million to cover workers’ compensation claims for injuries suffered by staff members who were “struck or injured” by a fellow worker, patient, or other person while working within the state’s youth corrections system. Since 2013, the payouts totaled nearly $5 million.
RMPBS also found that last year, the state Division of Youth Corrections documented 48 incidents when youth suffered injuries that required follow-up medical treatment as a result of physical management by staff.
According to a state spokesperson, Laura Morsch-Babu, the cost to treat specific youth injuries is not tracked, but “the vast majority of the medical care was able to (be) handled by staff at the facilities' medical clinics.”
“Once you lay a hand on a child, especially a traumatized child, the chances of that escalating into something physical where kids and staff get hurt just dramatically goes up,” said Rebecca Wallace, the staff attorney for the ACLU of Colorado.
COLORADO CHILD SAFETY COALITION: DYC HAS "CULTURE OF VIOLENCE"
Colorado’s DYC has been under scrutiny after a critical report was released in February by the Colorado Child Safety Coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, Disability Law Colorado, the Colorado State Public Defender, and the Colorado Juvenile Defender Center.
The assessment, called Bound & Broken, relied on narratives from 21 young offenders, their private records, and thousands of pages of internal reports.
Accompanied by graphic photos of rug burns on children’s faces and bruises on their arms as a result of restraint techniques or “physical management” by DYC staff, the report alleges the youth corrections system is “plagued by punitive practices that cause physical and emotional harm to the young people in its care.”
RMPBS independently interviewed both youth and staff from the DYC who were not included in the report. Formerly incarcerated youth interviewed by RMPBS said they experienced both violence and rehabilitation while they were in the system.
“I do not believe that the Division of Youth Corrections’ facilities are plagued with violence,” said Anders Jacobson, director of the Division of Youth Corrections. “We do not abuse kids. Our staff are dedicated Colorado citizens that take on this cause of working with at risk youth.”
Staff members receive 32 hours of training in motivational interviewing and verbal de-escalation techniques when they are first hired, according to the state. There is additional training each year.
Jacobson said the state offers daily school and vocational classes, athletic activities and opportunities for kids to earn special privileges.
“Our end goal is to ensure that they are productive citizens in Colorado, and we’re passionate about that,” said Jacobson.
The Division of Youth Corrections has been exploring new ideas for managing youth in the system. Click here to see the full report at Rocky Mountain PBS.