Division of Youth Services (DYS)
AUGUST 2019 REPORT REVEALS THAT DYS SECRETIVE POLICY PROCESS IS HARMING KIDS, ENDANGERING STAFF
A report released in August 2019 by Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman (CPO) sharply criticizes the Department of Youth Services (DYS) for its “opaque, inconsistent and inaccessible” approach to policies that directly impact the safety of young people sentenced to DYS facilities. Because it formulates policies without public hearings or input from anyone outside a small group of agency leaders, staff at DYS facilities believe their opinions on the policies they must implement is not valued, according to the report.
The Colorado Juvenile Defender Center (CJDC) was part of a coalition that published a report in 2017 (see below “Bound and Broken”) about the inhumane conditions for young people in DYS facilities. That report prompted legislative action and prompted DYS to promise several changes, including a pledge to stop using a mechanical restraint called the WRAP, which caused severe physical pain to kids. In response to public pressure, DYS promised to stop using the WRAP by July, 2018 as part of its pledge to phase out mechanical restraints at its facilities.
The CPO report reveals that DYS did not keep this promise, but simply replaced the WRAP with a new device it calls “the modified WRAP.” Because DYS policy is formulated in secret, DYS was able to conceal the fact that it went back on its word for close to a year.
“DYS must be held accountable for its lack of good faith,” said Mike Juba, CJDC board president. “Secrecy and lack of transparency are inconsistent with Colorado’s long history of governmental transparency. Because DYS is entrusted with the safety and well-being of the kids in its care, it is imperative that its policy decisions are made in a way that deserves public confidence.”
The report reflects that DYS does not provide its staff members with a handbook. This increases concerns that frontline staff members do not have access to current policies, despite being responsible for their implementation. Staff dissatisfaction with DYS leadership has caused turnover of 100% in the last year in some departments. “DYS has often cited staff turnover as the reason that its facilities are sometimes violent, unsafe places,” said Juba. “The CPO report shows that it is DYS leadership’s own actions that are contributing to these turnovers.”
Download the full August 2019 CPO report HERE.
Despite a mission of rehabilitation rather than punishment, the culture of the Colorado Division of Youth Corrections (DYC) is plagued by punitive practices that cause physical and emotional harm to the young people in its care. DYC’s culture of violence makes facilities unsafe for both children and staff and deters rehabilitation. This report draws on interviews with 21 young people who are or have been incarcerated in eleven of DYC’s thirteen state-owned facilities, as well as a review of over 1,000 pages of internal DYC documents, videos and medical reports regarding incidents that occurred between 2013 and 2016. The report concludes that DYC staff used physical pain, isolation and verbal degradation against vulnerable young people, most of whom suffer from past abuse and mental illness. Knee strikes, painful pressure points and the WRAP – a full body straitjacket – are common currency in DYC’s culture.
There is a better way. In Missouri, juvenile facilities focus on true internalized change for kids by building strong relationships between youth and their peers and between youth and staff. Staff never use isolation, restraints like the WRAP, or pain compliance, because these punitive measures hurt children and prohibit development of trusting relationships with staff. Statistics show that Missouri kids and staff are safer. The “Missouri Approach” has become the gold standard for the care of juveniles and has been exported to other states with success. A pilot program in Colorado could change the culture of violence at DYC to keep kids and staff safe while promoting rehabilitation.
Key Facts and Findings
1. Violence has been escalating in DYC facilities. External and internal measures confirm a dramatic increase in the number of documented fights and assaults, and complaints about violence from youth and staff to outside agencies have skyrocketed.
2. Young people and staff consistently report feeling unsafe in DYC facilities.
3. Most young people in DYC have experienced trauma. When youth with a history of trauma feel unsafe, they are less likely to be rehabilitated.
4. DYC staff routinely use physical force and pain to control young people.
• DYC staff physically restrained youth at least 3,611 times between January 2016 and January 2017. Of those restraints, over sixty percent resulted in the use of mechanical restraints, such as handcuffs, shackles, or the WRAP.
• The WRAP: DYC sanctions use of the WRAP, a full-body restraint banned in Arkansas after it was described as “torture” by the Juvenile Ombudsman. DYC placed children in the WRAP 253 times between January 2016 and January 2017.
• Pain Compliance: DYC staff commonly use pain compliance techniques, whereby staff strike or put pressure on sensitive parts of the child’s body to purposely cause pain and gain compliance with staff directives. The U.S. Department of justice found pain
compliance techniques violate children’s constitutional rights.
• DYC staff use force against youth who refuse to follow staff directives, even when those youth pose no immediate threat to safety.
• These punitive techniques injure both youth and staff. According to DYC’s own records, rates of injury to both young people and DYC staff are consistently higher than the national average and DYC’s internal goals.
5. Solitary Confinement: DYC placed young people in solitary confinement 2,240 times between January 2016 and January 2017.
6. DYC’s own data shows that increased staffing alone, without changing DYC’s punitive culture, will not ensure reduction of violence.
7. The Missouri Youth Services Institute, a non-profit dedicated to exporting the Missouri Approach, can bring a pilot program to Colorado and provide a template for broad cultural change within DYC, for a fraction of the cost of the funding requested this year by DYC.