Originally created 07/01/03

Privatization of YDC starts a month early



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

Juvenile Justice Commissioner Orlando Martinez cited a string of problems with outgoing staff. All remaining state workers at the south Augusta boys' detention center have been placed on 30-day administrative leave with pay and aren't allowed on the premises without appointments. Augusta-based Unique Solutions, which was to take over Aug. 1, is now 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 Monday morning at the campus and by Mr. Martinez at a meeting of YDC workers and state legislators at Augusta Technical College.

Mr. Martinez told a crowd of about 200 that since privatization was announced, staff have not been reporting for duty, have been sabotaging surveillance cameras and hand-held radios and have not been responding to calls for help in assaults between inmates. The incidents have prompted the department to reduce the inmate population, moving 75 boys to Bill E. Ireland Youth Development Campus in Milledgeville in the past month, he said.

The commissioner read a list of findings from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which has been looking at the campus since February. Among the GBI's findings:

  • Staff members have been selling drugs, cigarettes, lighters and pornography to boys in custody.
  • Staff members have allowed inmates to assault one another.
  • A female officer had sexual contact with a boy.
  • A half-ounce bag of marijuana went missing from the evidence room. No drug evidence has been turned over to Augusta authorities in 4 1/2 years.
  • Pornographic and R-rated movies have been brought onto the campus by staff. One tape that was found 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 pornographic in between.
  • Pornography was found on a school computer.
  • Officers have neglected to report inmates' grievances.
  • The commissioner also mentioned extortion but did not elaborate.

    Employees who spoke at the meeting shot back - and sometimes lashed out - at the commissioner, saying it's not fair for all of them to lose their livelihoods because of the criminal acts of a few.

    Lawmakers in attendance expressed the same sentiment. Rep. Pat Dooley, D-Marietta, said it seems the GBI investigation is being used as an excuse to privatize. Rep. Henry Howard, D-Augusta, said after the meeting that the YDC needs to be cleaned up, not cleaned out.

    The meeting at Augusta Tech took place in a crowded lecture room, which became hot and stuffy during the 2 1/2 -hour meeting. YDC workers cooled themselves with cardboard fans passed out by the Service Employees International Union. The union staged a protest outside the building, with workers holding up homemade signs around a hearse and a coffin, symbolizing the death of the YDC.

    Members of Augusta's legislative delegation attended the meeting, as did members of the Children and Youth and State Institutions and Property committees of the House and Senate. Robert Highsmith, attorney for Gov. Sonny Perdue, also attended.

    Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, said he hopes committee members and Augusta legislators can still persuade the governor to reverse Mr. Martinez's decision.

    At one point in the meeting, the mother of one of the boys who was moved to Milledgeville, Patricia Dunbar, of Augusta, took the podium and broke into tears. She said her son, Frank Mosquera, 19, is sleeping in a gym at the Bill E. Ireland YDC and misses the staff in Augusta.

    "These staff members did nothing but help my son. Now they're not going to have a job," she said. "This system doesn't care about these kids. These people do."

    About 120 state workers were still employed at the YDC on Monday, Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Jaci Vickers said. The facility once employed 300.

    Unique Solutions' six-month emergency contract, previously valued at $5.5 million, has been increased to a seven-month contract worth about $6.4 million, Ms. Vickers said.

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



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