Ohio DYS finally acknowledges reality

Published 10:33 am Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This just in: The Ohio Department of Youth Services has a gang problem.

There was also a world war in the 1940s and Fred Flintstone had a daughter named Pebbles.

While this “news” of DYS gangs, recently reported by The Marion Star, may surprise some, it is old news to those who work every day in these hostile environments.

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What is surprising is that it took this long for DYS to finally admit they have a major problem.

Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility (ORV), located in Franklin Furnace, is one of the worst of the five state juvenile prisons when it comes to gangs. And the reason why this problem exists is simple: fear.

Fear is the reason why youth join gangs. Fear is also the reason why the adults who govern the system have allowed it to spin out of control.

For the youth, gangs offer a false sense of protection. These adolescents and young adults fear each other much more than they fear any authority figure.

Why? Because the present rules do not provide them adequate protection from one another, nor do they attempt to teach them basic life skills such as respect and integrity.

For the DYS facilitators, gangs have been the elephant in the corner for years. “Maybe if we don’t talk about it, it will go away,” they thought. “We don’t want to be sued again.”

And being sued again is what this is all about.

In 2004, a group headed by a man named Fred Cohen effectively shut down any chances of correcting the behavior of our most violent youth. While I agree in substance with what his study attempted to accomplish, which was to rehabilitate and educate kids instead of punish them, his coddling of violent offenders simply doesn’t work.

Now, the Headbusters and Heartless Felons, two of the major kiddy gangs in the DYS system, are finally getting some attention from the public.

Laugh if you wish, but unless you’ve lived the miserable life of a juvenile correctional officer (JCO), teacher, social worker, or food service employee in the DYS system, you cannot imagine the liberties these young offenders are given.

And don’t forget that these kids have exhausted their chances in their home counties. Their continual negative behavior has forced their judges to place them among the “worst of the worst.”

These “kids” are sometimes the size of college football linemen. DYS keeps some youth until they are 21 years old.

If they spit in a staff member’s face or throw urine at them, which happens frequently, staff members are expected to somehow maintain their bearing and realize that these are just silly, mischievous “kids”… even if, by legal definition, they are not.

If they beat on another youth, staff must follow strict guidelines …. which are heavily enforced (many staff are fired each year for not following grossly substandard training edicts to the letter), even though their training in the so-called tactic of Response to Resistance (R2R) is very basic and minimal … and magically separate the two youth while not causing any harm whatsoever to the instigator or his victim.

For the youth, this place is nothing more than a camp surrounded by barbed wire that teaches young felons how to become hardened criminals.

They organize, complete with a hierarchy, and make hits on members of rival gangs. They follow orders from top ranking members of their gang of choice. A violent act toward a staff member is the fastest way to move up in the ranks.

And, most disturbingly, these youth are much more afraid of the repercussions of not following gang orders than they are of not following staff guidance.

Since Cohen’s study and implemented guidelines, this problem has plagued our youth prison system.

Visit job hunting sites such as Indeed.com and you’ll notice that DYS is continually in need of employees. What do you think to yourself when you notice that any organization is constantly in need of help?

Few want to work there!

There is no rehabilitation gained at DYS. None of these kids get out as changed individuals with goals and a desire to be a productive, law abiding citizen.

They come out as seasoned thugs … and they come back to our communities.

But then there’s those darned lawsuits.

What a dilemma, huh?

Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at hollandkat3@aol.com.