Contractor fails school, state oversight needed

Privatization : Juvenile justice officials bear some blame for failing to correct understaffing problems.

July 15, 1999

RECENT security lapses -- several escapes and a rape -- at two juvenile facilities should make it clear that the state must supervise the private contractor operating the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School and the Victor Cullen Academy.

Whether the cause was understaffing, as legislators allege, or inadequate security equipment, as the contractor contends, doesn't matter. Careful oversight would have spotted the problems early enough to have prevented these fundamental failures.

Youth Services International, which has operated both institutions since the early 1990s, certainly bears a great deal of the blame. Testimony this week before a Senate oversight committee suggested the company did not have appropriate staff supervising the youths at the two schools.

In one particularly outrageous instance, the company had a dishwasher overseeing a group of youths working in the kitchen. One of them slipped away and sneaked into the health center where he assaulted and raped a nurse.

It's not clear whether this casual oversight of violence-prone delinquents is typical or the exception of YSI, which just won another five-year, $78-million contract to run the Hickey School.

But how would state officials have even known? Juvenile Justice Secretary Gilberto de Jesus acknowledged his staff was "generally aware" of occasional problems with YSI but didn't examine the extent of the problem or intervene.

That's unacceptable.

YSI is a subsidiary of Correctional Services Corp., a publicly-traded company. Its interest is simple: maximizing profits.

If privatization is to be an efficient and cost-effective way of delivering public services, the departments overseeing the contracts must be vigilant. When contractors don't meet state standards, government officials are well within their rights to terminate their agreements.

YSI should view its freshly-inked contract to run the Hickey School as an opportunity to prove that it can correct staffing problems and provide a secure environment for the young people at there. It's up to the Department of Juvenile Justice to see that YSI does just that.

Pub Date: 7/15/99

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