image_pdfimage_print

Georgia DJJ Audit of YDC Found Numerous Violations Months Before Detainee Escape

In October, five young detainees escaped from Georgia’s Augusta Youth Development Campus (YDC). Just a few days later, the facility’s then-Director, Ronald Brawner, resigned. An internal audit released last month by the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) indicates that the facility had numerous departmental policy violations prior to the escape, with an interview conducted earlier in the year revealing that Brawner’s staff failed to maintain proper documentation or develop an emergency plan for the YDC, according to The Augusta Chronicle.

Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles stated last month that the DJJ told administrators and personnel at the YDC to improve facility safety and make departmental improvements. A late-August DJJ evaluation verified that the facility did not have cooperative agreements in place with emergency officials, such as local police.  Additionally, an auditor determined the YDC was both constructed unsafely and staffed by an “excessive” number of uncertified security personnel.

In examining grievances filed by the facility’s detainees, eight of 113 cases involved alleged incidences of bullying, harassment by staff and other young people and accusations of personnel misconduct. Auditors stated that no special incident reports were filed, so none of the grievances were ever investigated.

The auditors also said that an interview with Brawner indicated that required debriefing conversations with young people following specific incidents were either inconsistent or never conducted at all. Out of 63 detainees that requested to see a counselor, auditors found that 12 did not see one within 72 hours. Additionally, auditors said three out of four young people enrolled in required programs for sexually abusive detainees were not receiving counseling. One auditor wrote that a young detainee under suicide watch was able to “self harm with items/objects on three different occasions.”

Niles said a new director would be in place at the facility by mid-month. “Escapes and poor performance audits will not be tolerated,” he told Augusta Fox-affiliate WFXG.

File photo by Ryan Schill | JJIE

Building Bridges Instead of Walls

Growing up, I lived a short bike ride away from my grandmother.  An elementary school reading teacher, she was always a source of stability for me. When I would go to her with my problems – an argument with a friend, a disagreement with my mother – she would remind me to take a step back and try to build a bridge instead of a wall.

With this lesson in mind, I do my best to have cordial interactions with everyone in the court system, though at times it can be trying.  Emotions fly, tempers flare and the inevitable happens: defense attorneys become annoyed by prosecutors, probation officers are frustrated with judges, and we all suffer the effects of working within an adversarial system.

A couple of weeks ago, we had our annual panel of speakers from the local juvenile courts in the seminar that I teach each fall.  Judges, prosecutors and probation officers are invited to share their insights and experiences with our 24 third-year law students who defend children charged with crimes in delinquency court.

The two-hour conversation had an intensity I had not felt in past years. One judge spoke of her belief that no other forum in the criminal justice system was more important than juvenile court.  She told of a case that had made a lasting impression – four 14-year-old boys were charged with felony breaking and entering into a residence and several counts each of injury to personal and real property.

The judge showed us photos of the destruction the teens had wrecked – broken windows, furniture turned upside down, clothing and other possessions dumped on the floor. The boys had urinated on the beds and had scrawled racial epithets and swastikas on the walls of the children’s room. After admitting to the offenses in juvenile court, the teenagers were stone-faced, showing no signs of remorse.

Then it was time for disposition and the victim’s opportunity to speak. A carefully dressed woman who took pride in her home, she turned to the boys who were all looking away. Minutes passed.  Folks sitting in the courtroom started to grumble, angry with the juveniles and impatient to see them punished. When the boys finally met her gaze, she uttered only three words: “I forgive you.”

The judge shared how the woman’s compassion released a torrent of emotion in the young men – first tears, then expressions of regret. We talked about juvenile court’s emphasis on accountability as well as forgiveness and about its potential to effect change.

During the second half of the panel discussion, the conversation turned to the economy and the impact that the downturn has had on the resources available to juveniles. One probation officer spoke about long-term detention facilities (also called youth development centers or YDCs) – the secure institutions where young people are committed for terms of at least six months.

“Detention centers don’t change behaviors,” the officer told us, “but they may modify them.” He emphasized the critical need for transitional residences to house youth after they are released from YDCs and before they are returned to their families. At one time these “multipurpose homes,” located in rural areas of the state, provided small groups of kids with a treatment-oriented, community-based program for up to 12 months.  Yet they were closed with a recent round of state budget cuts, and nothing has replaced them.

Without the option of programs to assist young people with the reentry process, the officer explained, some kids act out in an effort to extend their stay at the YDC. They deliberately violate rules of the facility – even to the point of assaulting someone – because they know they’re not yet ready to leave and face the temptations of the street. For others, the prison-like setting provides the basics they would otherwise lack – electricity, hot water, and reliable meals – and gives them a rare opportunity to relax and feel like kids.

A student raised her hand and spoke about her experiences assisting adults in reentry programs in New York. The probation officer suggested that she attend a meeting with him and others to discuss transitional alternatives for juveniles in North Carolina.  She readily agreed.

Earlier that day, I had been worried that the panel discussion would not go well – that conversation would be stilted or students would lose interest. The class meets in the late afternoon, when it’s not easy to stay alert and engaged. But my concerns had been unwarranted.

As I packed up my papers at the close of the session, several folks lingered to continue talking. A prosecutor spoke animatedly and gave out her email address. A student announced that she wished there were more time because she still had questions. A probation officer hugged me.

I was somewhat stunned. Here we had gathered together, listened to each other and made connections. Although we fulfill very different roles in the juvenile court system and often disagree, for a couple of hours we set all that aside.

My grandmother would have been proud.

Former Georgia DJJ Officer Arrested for Alleged Sexual Assault of 14-Year-Old in Custody

Interior, Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center

A former Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) corrections officer was arrested Wednesday for alleged sex crimes that occurred while she was a staff member at the Regional Youth Detention Center (RYDC) in Gainesville.

Ardith Brown faces charges of felony child molestation and sexual assault against persons in custody. Brown was removed from duty at the RYDC and suspended in January after other corrections officers alerted a DJJ Safety and Security Team to evidence of officer misconduct during an unannounced inspection. She was terminated February 2 following a DJJ internal investigation into allegations Brown had an inappropriate relationship with a 14-year-old RYDC resident in DJJ custody.

The Gainesville RYDC was the first DJJ secure facility to receive a surprise facility inspection after Commissioner L. Gale Buckner began a system-wide security sweep crackdown following a homicide at the Augusta YDC campus last November.

“As a result of our surprise inspections at all 27 Georgia juvenile detention centers, we’ve observed many of our Juvenile Corrections Officers become more diligent in monitoring youth activity at all our facilities,” said Buckner in an statement released late Wednesday.

She added, “We’re wasting no time recommending criminal prosecution wherever evidence is found and prosecution is warranted to remove officer misconduct from our ranks and protect Georgia’s youth in detention.”

Buckner predicted more misconduct violations would come to light as the statewide internal investigation continues. She also promised more prosecutions.

“We want this action to serve as a strong deterrent,” she said, “and we welcome this opportunity to help local authorities prosecute these crimes against the children in our care and custody.

‘Corruption’ Rampant Inside Troubled Augusta YDC, Former Interim Director Says

Razor wire fence borders the Metro Regional Youth Detention center in Atlanta, Ga. JJIE Staff, 2010. File photo.Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Gale Buckner appointed a new director this week to lead the troubled Augusta Youth Development Campus (YDC). Ronald Brawner will take over from Interim Director Gary Jones, who is returning to his post as Sardis Police Chief, according to WJBF in Augusta.

In November, DJJ and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation began a joint investigation at the facility after the beating death of an inmate. Another inmate was later charged with murder in connection with the death.

The investigation led to the firing of almost 20 YDC personnel amid charges of sexual abuse and inmate possession of contraband.

Jones, who was ordered not to speak with the media during his term as interim director, is now speaking out about what he saw inside the YDC.

"It was obvious to anybody with any common sense that the kids were running the facility," Jones told WJBF. He described the situation inside the YDC as “turmoil.”

Jones says, despite the firings, more work needs to be done to improve conditions inside the YDC.

“Is the corruption still there? Yeah, there's still corrupt personnel. I mean, 90 days didn't give me enough opportunity to get rid of all of it,” Jones said.

According to WJBF, Jones was offered the permanent director position but turned it down because he promised Sardis city leaders he would return after the interim position was finished.

Photo by Clay Duda | JJIE.org

Bad Mentoring Overheard While Waiting for the Elevator

Working in a juvenile court in metro Atlanta, I become a fly on the wall to some interesting conversations that take place among kids while they wait for appointments.

Not long ago, while I was waiting for our reluctant elevator, I overheard a conversation that really caught my attention.

Girl No. 1:  Smiling, “Hey, you know this is my second time in court … only my first time in this court though…”

Girl No. 2:  Eyes popping open wide, obviously impressed, “Really, aren’t you afraid you will have to go to the RYDC?” (Regional Youth Detention Center)

Girl No. 1:  Flashing tough girl smile, “For real girl, I have already been there.  Met some cool girls too… hoping to hang with them all soon.”

At this point I looked at both of the girls’ mothers, shocked that neither had intervened in the conversation taking place. They sat staring straight ahead, not appearing to hear or be paying attention to them in the least.

Girl #2:  Leaning into Girl #1, “Wow, for real?  I have never been to RYDC.  I have heard of some girls who have.  Maybe I’ll end up there too, after all, it’s gotta be less boring than school.”

Girl #1:  “Oh, it’s really boring too, but easy. I am not scared of any of it. It’s just time.”

Both girls went on to explain the nature of the acts that landed them in court that day.  By the time my elevator arrived, one might never have known they had just met.

The two girls were awaiting a program at our court called the Quad C-ST. It is a single point of entry to local services and consists of a panel of experts that meet with the parents of youth who have been referred by an individual or agency in the community.

The panel gathers important information about school, home and community history of the youth.  This information is then used to develop an appropriate plan of treatment/intervention for each at-risk youth. Recommendations are based on each youth’s needs and the resources which are available in the community.

Instead of filing truancy and unruly petitions, the child and family are referred to the Quad C-ST for assessment. The same is true with low-level school offenses, which are mostly unruly students but masked with a delinquent act, disrupting public school and disorderly conduct. This has reduced school related petitions by 73 percent. All of this began when we joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative network and equipped ourselves with the knowledge of detention ineffectiveness and with tools to serve kids better.

We have come a long way from past years.  Now, with these new tools and collaborative systems, we are better able to keep low-risk offenders away from high-risk offenders and out of detention centers and instead serving them in the community. However, we still have a system that does not consider that these positive changes might require a shift in the way we fund the system.

Statistics show that of all status runaways, four out of five are girls, increasing the odds that girls will be detained for a status offense if there are no services available to keep them safe.  Let’s face it; most girls are not high risk, but high needs.  Unfortunately, most communities do not have the resources for appropriate services for girls with high needs.

One program that the evidence shows works with youth, especially girls, is mentoring.

After my wait at the elevator, I couldn’t help but think I had just spent five minutes witnessing some serious mentoring.  Unfortunately, it was negative mentoring. Positive mentoring programs for at-risk girls are few and far between, as they are difficult to fund.

Girls like the ones I saw, often end up receiving safe keeping and services in an RYDC setting, but could have best been served in their communities, if only resources were available.  It is not enough to assess the needs of youth.

We must question why low- risk, high- need youth  too often only find needed services in an RYDC environment.

Photographer of Juvenile Detention Centers Featured on PBS NewsHour

Watch Photographer Captures Young Faces of Juvenile Detention on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.


Richard Ross

The PBS Newshour aired an interview Thursday with noted photographer and regular Bokeh contributor Richard Ross. For the last five years, Ross has been visiting youth detention centers across the United States, more than 300 so far, and documenting what he sees.

In addition to his photographic work, part of a project he calls Juvenile-in-Justice, Ross has interviewed more than 1,000 detained youth. Recently, Ross also visited juvenile detention centers in Canada.

Speaking with JJIE in October about his motivation Ross said, “I wanted to give a voice to the people that I thought had the least voice in our society.”

He continued, “I want people to look at these juveniles as people. Consider that most of them are here due to a collapsed economic, social, educational and family system. You have to look at society as a whole and use that to contextualize what these kids did to get into these institutions.”

Ross’ photographs can be seen as part of an ongoing series on JJIE’s arts page, Bokeh.

Indictment in Beating Death at Georgia Youth Detention Center

Michael Everidge was indicted this week in the November beating death of an inmate at an Augusta, Ga. youth detention center. The Richmond County District Attorney brought felony murder charges against 17-year-old Everidge for the death of 19-year-old Jade Holder. Everidge was charged as an adult.

The Department of Juvenile Justice and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation launched a joint investigation in November after Holder was beaten in his cell at the YDC. He died in the hospital the next day. An autopsy revealed the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the head.

In a statement released Thursday, DOJ Commissioner Gale Buckner praised the efforts of the investigators.

"We thank the GBI for their unparalleled cooperation and the level of expertise they have brought to the field to help expedite this death investigation at DJJ's Augusta Youth Development Campus,” Buckner said.

Buckner also thanked the Richmond County DA.

“The Department of Juvenile Justice also commends the Richmond County District Attorney's Office,” she said, “for coordinating the results of this intensive investigation to a conclusion resulting in an indictment to bring justice to the murder of 19-year-old Jade Holder."

The joint investigation at the troubled Augusta Youth Development Campus has also lead to the firing of at least a dozen employees.

Investigation Leads to Sex Allegations at Augusta, Georgia Youth Detention Center

Isolation cell inside the Augusta YDC

The Augusta, Ga. youth detention denter, where a 17-year-old was beaten to death in November, continues to be the focus of an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). A team of 20 agents conducted interviews Tuesday as part of the murder probe. They were also there to investigation new allegations of sexual contact (some confirmed) between security personnel and detained youth, according to The Athens Banner-Herald.

Gale Buckner, commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), briefed members of the Augusta legislative delegation on the ongoing joint investigation by DJJ and GBI. In the course of the investigation into the death, she said, other allegations were brought to light.

[W]e have both criminally and administratively done our best to ensure that we have been as detailed as possible,” Buckner said. “However, we made the decision — it was a joint decision between GBI and myself — that we wanted to ensure that no one did not have an opportunity to talk in private with an investigator on any topic that he or she might have.”

Multiple officials and staff members have already resigned or been fired as part of the investigation, according to The Banner-Herald.

The daylong interviews are voluntary, Buckner said

“Everyone has the right not to cooperate in a criminal investigation,” she said. “However, if you choose not to do that, we can compel you to do that. So I would encourage folks to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Photo by John Ernst courtesy The Augusta Chronicle

Employee Misconduct and Violence High At Augusta Georgia Youth Detention Facility

Razor wire fence borders the Metro Regional Youth Detention center in Atlanta, Ga. JJIE Staff, 2010. File photo.The Augusta, Ga., youth detention facility where a 19-year-old inmate was beaten in November and subsequently died ranks second among Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facilities in employee misconduct, contraband and altercations between youth and staff.

Only the Eastman YDC, according to reports obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, surpassed the Youth Development Campus (YDC) in Augusta.

Jade Holder was severely beaten in his cell in Unit 43 of the Augusta YDC Nov. 7. He was pronounced brain dead at the hospital and died the following day.

One guard at the facility was fired in connection with Holder’s murder. Marlon McCreary, Sr., was dismissed for “failure to lock the doors to the rooms of the resident in Unit 43.”

Two other employees, a guard and a captain, were suspended following Holder’s death. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation began a criminal investigation into Holder’s death at the request of the DJJ. The DJJ is running its own administrative investigation.

Michael Everidge, a 17-year-old youth at the Augusta facility, was charged with Holder’s murder. A preliminary hearing for Everidge was continued Friday.

Everidge’s mother says her son claims he did not kill Holder.

"I mean, you got to understand there are more boys involved in this from what my son is saying," Keiondra Everidge told Augusta’s News 12. "There's more involved in this situation."

In the wake of Holder’s murder, Gov. Nathan Deal announced new leadership at the Augusta YDC. Gary Jones, chief of police in Sardis, Ga. will begin a special three-month assignment at the facility. According to a statement by the Governor’s Office, Jones will answer directly to new DJJ Commissioner Gale Buckner.

Photo by Clay Duda | JJIE.org

Captain at YDC Suspended During Investigation Into Inmate’s Death

Razor wire fence borders the Metro Regional Youth Detention center in Atlanta, Ga. JJIE Staff, 2010. File photo.A captain at the youth detention center in Augusta, Ga., has been suspended as part of an investigation into the death of a 19-year-old inmate Nov. 8, The Augusta Chronicle reported. Jade Holder died of blunt force trauma to the head after being beaten the previous day inside the YDC. Another inmate, 17-year-old Michael Jarod Everidge, was charged with Holder’s murder.

Department of Juvenile Justice spokesperson Emily Gest told The Chronicle the captain was suspended with pay pending an investigation into possible misconduct. The department did not release the captain’s name or specify the misconduct.

Everidge did not show up for a scheduled bond hearing Friday. Officials had no explanation for why Everidge did not appear at the hearing.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation continues their criminal investigation in the case. The DJJ is investigating policies and procedures at the YDC.

Photo by Clay Duda/JJIE.org