Originally created 06/30/03

YDC privatization begins Tuesday



Privatization of the Augusta Youth Development Campus has been bumped up a month. It starts Tuesday.

All remaining state workers at the south Augusta youth detention center have been placed on 30-day administrative leaves with pay, and aren't allowed on the premises, according to state officials. Augusta-based Unique Solutions, which had been set to take over on August 1, will be in control.

Only 53 children remain at the YDC, which once housed 244.

"We're not going to know what's going on in there anymore," services coordinator Roderick Pearson said. "Not with the kids, not with anything."

The announcement was made this morning at the campus and by Juvenile Justice Commissioner Orlando Martinez at a meeting held in a lecture room at Augusta Technical College for YDC workers and state legislators.

Mr. Martinez said since privatization was announced, staff have not been reporting for duty, which has resulted in the inmate population being reduced.

The commissioner read a list of findings from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which has been looking into the campus since February. The agency has discovered that staffers have been selling drugs, cigarettes, lighters and pornography to boys in custody, Mr. Martinez said.

Staff members have allowed inmates to assault one another and have failed to follow proper procedures regarding contraband, the commissioner said. A female guard had sexual contact with a boy, he said. He also mentioned extortion, but did not elaborate.

Mr. Martinez said a half-ounce bag of marijuana went missing from the evidence room. He said that X- and R-rated movies have been brought onto the campus by staff. One tape was found which had five minutes of a G-rated movie at the beginning and about 10 minutes of a G-rated movie at the end, but was all X-rated in between, he said.

Since the privatization was announced on June 4, staff have been sabotaging equipment, sabotaging surveillance cameras and making phone calls to parents and the Department of Family and Children Services about the campus, Mr. Martinez said. He also said a harassing phone message was left for the YDC's acting director, Audrey Armistad.

Lawmakers who addressed the crowd questioned why 300 workers were being punished for the actions of a few.

"It seems to me that this has been used as an excuse to privatize the institution," said Rep. Pat Dooley, D-Marietta. The crowd of nearly 200 applauded.

Richmond County Commissioner Bobby Hankerson told workers not to fret about a GBI investigation. He said the GBI has investigating the county government for years, and nothing has come of it.

"It may take four years," he said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com