Originally created 02/28/04

Effects of move begin to show



It's been two weeks since the Department of Juvenile Justice moved dozens of the state's most mentally ill and troubled juvenile offenders out of the Augusta Youth Development Campus.

Since then, the department has been scrambling to take care of the 50 or so who were bused to the Metro Regional Youth Detention Center, an Atlanta facility designed more like a county jail than a campus.

Spokeswoman Jaci Vickers said the department has brought in additional mental health staff to the RYDC, including counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists to transform a jail pod into a makeshift mental health ward.

Juvenile Justice officials also have been contacting former clinical staff members of Unique Solutions - the former operator of the Augusta YDC - asking them to work with the boys in Atlanta as state employees.

The department has offered to compensate the staff for mileage and overnight lodging, according to Unique Solutions President Brett Brannon.

There have been some problems in Atlanta.

In an e-mail sent last week to Assistant Deputy Commissioner Rob Rosenbloom by Betty Hampton, the mother of a 17-year-old who was moved to the RYDC on Valentine's Day, effects of the displacement are starting to show.

She said one boy was not getting his medication and had become unmanageable, threatening to kill himself, defecating in his room, playing in the toilet, striking a guard and a fellow inmate with boxes and screaming all night.

Mrs. Hampton said there has been more cutting and self-mutilation.

She said a teen tried to cut his own throat, and she saw another boy during visitation who had "no fewer than 50 cuts on his arms."

Ms. Vickers said she does not think the incidents were the result of the boys being moved to Atlanta. She said Mrs. Hampton's e-mail has been addressed, and the boys are doing fine.

Such problems come up when dealing with incarcerated, mentally ill youth, Ms. Vickers said.

"For me, the issue would be, why are those children in the system in the first place?" she said.

Also this week, punches were thrown when a guard caught several boys trying to take candy from an office, Ms. Vickers said.

On Feb. 18, 19-year-old Chad Warner was arrested after attacking a fellow inmate and two officers, breaking a female guard's nose.

Until the move to Atlanta, Mr. Warner had been deemed too violent to be kept at the YDC, and Unique Solutions Security Director Jody Rowland had arranged with Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength to keep him in the county jail.

Unique Solutions lost the campus when Juvenile Justice Commissioner Albert Murray shut it down Feb. 15. State attorneys had advised him not to allow a Florida-based corrections firm to take over because of problems with the bid process.

Mr. Rosenbloom sent an e-mail to Mrs. Hampton on Tuesday, telling her that the boys are doing better, that they're taking classes again and that funding has been secured to add more staff.

"I think they're putting Band-Aids on Band-Aids," said Mrs. Hampton, of Marietta, Ga. "I think it's too late. I think the damage has been done."

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