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Youth prison system is ‘DYS-functional’

William Hesson is dead and nobody will explain what happened … not even to his family.

This tragedy brought to you by the Ohio Department of Youth Services.

On Wednesday, April 29, Hesson was reportedly attacked at work by a youth at the Cuyahoga Juvenile Correctional Facility in Highland Heights.

The corrections officer, a 39-year-old father of three with a pregnant wife, died from blunt force trauma to the head.

The first reports issued by DYS stated that the cause of Hesson’s death was not yet determined. That statement was later rescinded and re-issued as an “altercation with a youth.”

Nearly a week later and still no official cause of death has been reported.

Rewind to 2004 and allow me to introduce you to Fred Cohen.

Cohen was the front man for a team of child advocacy groups who claimed Ohio’s youth prisons were, well, too much like prison. During their three-year study, Cohen and his team determined that impressionable young adolescents, along with legal adults who are still incarcerated in the youth prisons, shouldn’t be treated as, um, prisoners.

They should be able to explore their budding identities and live a peaceful life in confinement.

Keep in mind that these kids aren’t the ones egging your house or throwing snowballs at the mailman.

They have committed serious felonious acts, often on many separate occasions.

Cohen’s report turned DYS upside down.

Suddenly, fearing another lawsuit and the imminent backlash of negative publicity, the department became ultra inmate friendly.

Excuse me for saying “inmate.” The correct DYS term is “youth.”

Verbal skills became the latest, greatest way to diffuse potentially dangerous situations.

That’s right; suddenly it was possible to talk a youth out of punching you in the face. As he’s swinging, you simply keep backing up and show no outward signs of emotion. All you have to do is repeat, “Calm down, please. Calm down.”

I’m not kidding. This is a real example of an intervention technique taught at the DYS training academy in Columbus. Some of these “youth” stand well past six feet tall and tip the scales at the far end of 200 pounds.

And many of the “youth” are not youth at all, at least not according to law. The department houses offenders up to 21 years of age.

So what is the punishment for breaking the rules in DYS? Most often, a write-up, which is a slap on the wrist. For serious offenses, solitary confinement is ordered.

This break from the chaos of the general population is more of a reward to most “youth” than a punishment. So, why not slap a female officer in the jaw? It gives you clout among your gang members and gets you away from everybody else for a month.

Also, in solitary, you don’t have to worry about somebody stealing your state-mandated evening snack.

Why won’t the state come completely clean about how William Hesson died?

Surveillance cameras are set up throughout all eight of the DYS facilities. Surely by now, an informed opinion has been made. But, Cohen just took them to the cleaners with his lawsuit and chaos has reigned supreme ever since.

Maybe they fear that light will be shed on the fact that youth prison in Ohio is nothing more than a Boy’s Club surrounded by barbed wire. Maybe somebody is worried about his or her job.

If anything good comes of this, though, maybe it will be that prison will finally become a place where no “youth” wants to be.

All of this is assuming, however, that we find out what actually happened.

Billy Bruce is a freelance writer and Pedro resident.