Youth prisons more like summer camps

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Three weeks ago, a juvenile corrections officer was killed in an Ohio youth prison. In that time span the state has developed a debilitating case of laryngitis.

Nobody is saying anything, except that an 18-year-old Vermilion “boy” who attempted to grab a deputy’s gun when originally sentenced to prison is the subject of an investigation.

Many of us know by now that William Hesson, a decorated war hero, was murdered April 29 by at least one inmate at the Cuyahoga Juvenile Correctional Facility in Highland Heights.

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What we don’t know yet, and this is the baffling part, is what actually happened and how many prisoners were involved.

How long does it take to conduct a murder investigation when the perpetrator is housed in a prison facility with cameras overseeing nearly every move made inside the institution?

A few more questions: If an inmate had died at the hands of an officer, would this story have made national news?

Would an investigation of the incident already be completed, with the offending juvenile correctional officer in custody awaiting trial?

You bet!

The intimidating barbed wire that lines the sloped walls of Ohio’s youth prisons contradicts the environment that exists within. The fact is that those walls are lined with political red tape.

That red tape imprisons the very ones charged with keeping order within the facilities. It also affords prisoners rights that they took away from others prior to incarceration.

A day in the life of a JCO is a continuous hurdle through the obstacles of two competing areas: common sense and contradiction.

Being spit upon, smacked or covered in urine is a daily danger for these state employees. This happens, all of it and much more, every day.

“Guess what,” as one of DYS’s most influential training facility instructors might say: It isn’t going to change any time soon.

The so-called corrective recourse taken by DYS when infractions occur demoralizes staff. In most cases, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. In fact, sometimes the “punishment” is actually a reward.

JCO’s (the politically correct term is changing to “youth counselors”) are not allowed to touch a prisoner (politically correct term is “youth”) except in extreme situations.

Prisoners can punch a JCO in the nose, then turn around with their hands behind their backs and expect no physical repercussions for their actions.

These convicted felons, all of whom are imprisoned because they have exhausted their options within their counties of residence, have been afforded rights that defy common sense and are very aware of their boundaries.

A seasoned lawyer named Fred Cohen ensured that.

Cohen took Ohio’s juvenile prison system to task in 2004.

His “findings,” boosted by sympathetic organizations that disdain punishing kids for any reason, destroyed any chance of Ohio having a valid correctional institution for youth. I don’t believe Mr. Cohen ever worked a shift as a JCO in any of the state’s facilities.

I wonder what he would think of these “misunderstood” youth if he had a cup full of urine tossed in his face or was attacked by several of the “youth” and could do absolutely nothing to prevent it from happening again.

Would he have simply wiped the offensive fluid, or his own blood, from his brow and challenged the “kids” who did it to a game of NCAA Football on the recreation room Playstation?

Would he have sat with them and watched a movie on one of the facility’s many HD/ LCD flat screen televisions?

Maybe he would have shared with them one of their mandated bedtime snacks, one of the rights he fought to give to every “impressionable” youth, no matter their behavior.

The Vermilion man/boy who is under investigation for killing William Hesson had a history of violent behavior.

He reportedly said that if he had gotten the deputy’s gun he would have killed both deputies who subdued him as well as the sentencing judge.

In DYS, this kid/man was served milk and cookies every night before he went to bed!

Lawsuits and the sudden removal of all of the vital input essential to the maturation process of youth, most specifically the law of “Do unto others,” is lost on the state of Ohio in the youth corrections realm.

Since we suddenly want prison to be a positive experience for our youth, shouldn’t we give our institutions a softer name? How about Freddy’s Fun House?

If something isn’t done to correct this extremely ineffective system, we are going to continue creating better criminals under the smokescreen called “rehabilitation.”

How many of us want a kiddy camp, funded by our tax dollars, that only creates future problems?

One more question: Why is DYS continually hiring JCO’s?

That question alone should have sent up a red flag a long time ago. That flag may have preserved William Hesson’s life.

Billy Bruce is a freelance writer and Pedro resident.