First, the community would like to thank state Sen. Harper for hosting a town hall meeting Sept 9 at the Northwest YMCA to address community concerns about the recent Woodland Hills escape and uprising. While hardworking residents gave of their time to attend hoping to address changes in policies and procedures to make sure circumstances precipitating this chaos at the detention facility doesn’t happen again—many felt the faculty’s administration represented by DCS Commissioner Jim Henry spent most of the time making excuses instead of making concrete realistic solutions to deal with the problems. In fact, it came to a point when concerns from the community were cut short and bought to an abrupt stop. The speaker system was significantly impaired, and many of the attendees in the back couldn’t clearly hear what was being said. The DCS commissioner constantly brought up a lack of funds as a primary hindrance to the current problems as well as the inability to properly hire and train qualified security guards.
I don’t think the party representing the facility truly understood that (as residents of the community) we are aware of the problems associated with incarcerating and rehabilitating our youth. We have many groups working with our young men, but an appeal was made specifically for the churches to come forth and help eradicate the high percentage of young boys populating the juvenile detention centers.
We know a problem exists in the Black community with the lack of fathers and positive role models to mentor our young Black boys. However, it wasn’t mentioned that there is an exploitative systematic bureaucracy targeted toward young men of color. If justice is to be taken seriously, it should exist across the board—regardless of one’s race, political connections, economic status, or zip code. Attendees had not come to play and be side tracked by 12-lettered words used as smoke screens to hide the real problem. They wanted concrete, definitive solutions.
It was an insult to many residents when excuses were made about laws and policies safe guarding the residents because of previous lawsuits. That is all fine, but what Woodland Hills’ administration needs to be concerned about is the rights of residents in the community, i.e., safety and security. The liability of such a volatile institution is a concern. Lawsuits await if escapees wreak havoc or harm on residents in the surrounding area. This is a scenario the state does not want to entertain.
Don’t the rights of those in the surrounding community equal those of the juveniles? The ideal solution would be to reopen Taft Juvenile Detention Facility and transfer those juveniles at Woodland Hills to that facility. But the DCS commissioner quickly dismissed that as an option. Other solutions were apparent that didn’t require a genius or consultant to be present.
Qualified guards should be adequately paid and trained, discouraging turnovers—even if it means hiring your own security without the aid of an outside agency. The facility should be a severe lock down facility (regardless of a lawsuit in the ‘70s being used for not severely locking down the facility). For the sake of the staff, the juveniles and the community, legal action should be taken to change existing laws and policies inhibiting the security of the facility. Possibly the most important concern should be to make sure effective rehabilitating is taking place within the facility. The juveniles had significant time to plan an effective escape and uprising. That cannot be watered down.
Please stop using the lack of money as an excuse to expedite changes. Find the money. Appropriate the money. Stop insulting and trivializing residents in the surrounding community. We know this would not be a problem in some of your more selected pampered communities. We demand that the facility’s administration make the community’s safety a priority along with the proper rehabilitation of so many of our young men. Do the right thing.