Understaffing major factor in DYS news investigation

Posted Nov. 15, 2023 by

An eight-month investigation into Ohio’s Department of Youth Services (DYS) and youth detention systems concluded with what OCSEA has been saying for years: understaffing and lack of strong leadership is at the heart of the increased assaults in the youth system.

The Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron Beacon Journal have published a damning report about Ohio’s youth prison and detention centers that shows a pattern of increased assaults and violence on youth and staff. Both fear for their safety, according to the report. Additionally, the investigation showed a lack of transparency on the part of the Department of Youth Services leadership when it came to getting information about what’s going on in some of the facilities.

According to the newspaper report, “Violent incidents in DYS prisons rose by nearly 60% between 2020 and 2022.” That tracks with what OCSEA DYS members have been seeing on the grounds.

After the news stories hit, Governor DeWine announced the creation of a task force to get to the bottom of some of the problems, but OCSEA President Chris Mabe says that’s too little, too late: “Our members who work in Ohio’s juvenile prisons need help now, not a year from now when the committee concludes its report.”

On the task force are former judges, elected officials and others not intimately involved in the system today. “Someone needs to be talking to our members on the ground, not someone who used to be involved or never involved,” Mabe said. “Our members know what the problems are most,” he said (Source: "Union leader criticizes Mike DeWine’s response to prison problems" -- Columbus Dispatch)

Mabe and other union staff toured Indian River Juvenile Correctional Facility several weeks ago on the one-year anniversary of a youth prison riot there. “Our staff are resilient and care about the future of youth. They care about their jobs and their community. That’s why they’re still there,” said Mabe. “But everyone has a breaking point. Something has to give,” he explained.

In fact, just prior to the union’s visit to the Canton facility, seven staff had been assaulted in two weeks’ time.

“The DYS staff who continue to show up can’t continue to do the amount of overtime they are being forced to do. They can’t continue to risk injury and assault day after day. They simply can’t do their job and be effective with the youth without the staff to do it. They can’t do the programming required and they can’t hold the kids accountable when they commit assaults,” said Mabe.

While the newspaper story focused broadly on more than just the three state youth facilities, in general the papers agreed with the union’s assessment regarding understaffing and its consequences. One of its recommendations is to address a serious staff shortage. According to the paper: “A staff shortage was blamed a year ago when Indian River guard David Upshaw was attacked by a youth offender during the riot. He was in charge of a unit by himself. The staffing problems persist, with about 140 job openings for guards and other staffers.”

OCSEA will continue to talk to stakeholders and hold the DeWine administration’s feet to the fire as the task force begins to meet. “We will not rest, until we see a positive change,” said Mabe. The papers’ Editorial Boards are calling for Director Amy Ast and her leadership to resign.