|NAACP says problems persist at juvenile jail|
|Tuesday, 17 April 2012 09:34|
By Robert Zullo for the Richmond-Times Dispatch
RICHMOND, VA.--In the latest series of allegations concerning Richmond's juvenile jail, the executive director of the Virginia NAACP says "lies, coverups and subterfuge" are preventing real fixes to a lengthy list of problems at the facility.
"This place is a cesspool of corruption, incompetence and lies," said King Salim Khalfani during a news conference Monday morning in Richmond at the state headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
After Monday night's meeting of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, which Khalfani also addressed, Charles Kehoe, the city's director of Justice Services, said every allegation broached by Khalfani is either being addressed or has been resolved.
Kehoe said the juvenile facility has been extensively examined by city and state officials, including an inspection by the state Department of Juvenile Justice and two ongoing investigations by the city Commonwealth's Attorney's Office. It is also preparing for an exhaustive, 400-point audit demanded last week by the Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice.
"There's no coverup. This administration is totally transparent," Kehoe said. "We've been under more scrutiny than a lot of agencies."
The center has been placed on probation twice since 2009 by the state Board of Juvenile Justice, most recently in January after inspections by city and state officials found malfunctioning locks, intercoms and video surveillance systems, and evidence that training records had been falsified, among other deficiencies.
The inspections were launched after the NAACP, which had been meeting with about two dozen juvenile center employees, raised the concerns with city officials in September.
Khalfani made new allegations Monday, including that staff members lack required certifications, that city policies are being violated and that employee grievances and complaints of threatening behavior by a supervisor have been left unresolved.
Khalfani also says the facility has hired convicted felons in the past. He is asking for an audit of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the city to fix the locks, intercoms and video and computer systems at the center.
Kehoe told council members that computer crashes have been a recurring problem but said the city's contractor is working to solve them. All locks are functioning properly, he said. He acknowledged that he had "fallen behind" on employee grievances but has since caught up, he said.
The NAACP news conference came less than a week after the Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice extended the probation of the detention center following a lengthy debate over whether to decertify the facility. The move would have forced the center to house its residents elsewhere and could have meant staff layoffs.
Ken Bailey, who heads the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice's certification program, said last week that the city had fixed all problems that were the subject of the January probation. However, the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office is investigating whether the training records were forged as well as an allegation of improper communication between an employee and a former inmate.
In another lapse at the facility, a staff member who administered the incorrect dosage of medication to two inmates was placed on unpaid leave pending a disciplinary hearing, city officials have said. "Neither child had a bad reaction" to the incorrect dosages, Kehoe told council members Monday.
The center will remain on probation until January and must undergo the 400-point state audit, present a plan for properly documenting training and conduct a third-party investigation into whether documents were forged, the board decided last week. Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring did not respond Monday to a request for comment on his investigation.
But Khalfani has repeatedly called the facility "a tragedy waiting to happen" and wants more immediate action.
"They say they want to do the right thing, but the right thing never seems to happen," Khalfani said, accusing city officials of repeatedly lying about fixing problems at the facility. He also said Richmond has benefited from "cronyism" as a result of the four years Kehoe spent as the director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Kehoe denied the facility got any special treatment from the board because of his past position, which he held from 1990 to 1994. "That was 18 years ago," he said. "If anything, they're holding us to a higher standard. There is absolutely no favoritism."
Last week, Mayor Dwight C. Jones said staff and management "shortcomings" at the juvenile detention center "will continue to be dealt with."
"Several of the outstanding issues are now in the hands of the commonwealth's attorney and we have to allow that process to take its course. Otherwise, for those matters that are within our control, additional changes in management and operations will be forthcoming as we continue to address the obvious changes that need to be made," he said.
Last week, Byron C. Marshall, the city's chief administrative officer, told the state board that major changes have been made at the facility, including a new management structure, doubling the money for maintenance and video documentation of required training. A new superintendent should be hired within the next four to five weeks, he has said. Dianne Gadow, who was superintendent for nearly two years, was fired in January.
"Clearly we've had problems there, but hopefully we're addressing them," said Council President Kathy C. Graziano, who represents the 4th District.
Kehoe, who has worked for the city since 2009, said there hasn't yet been a chance to do a postmortem on how the juvenile center, which is 16 years old, arrived at its present state.
"The most important thing now is coming into compliance," Kehoe said. "There will be an opportunity for us to look at this in greater detail. Hindsight is always 20/20."
In related action Monday, a proposal by Councilman Charles R. Samuels of the 2nd District to establish a citizens advisory commission to monitor the juvenile center and another by Council Vice President Ellen F. Robertson of the 6th District to establish a commission on alternatives to incarceration were tabled for 30 days because of the council's difficulties in filling existing boards and commissions.