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A laundry list of problems

This article was published June 14, 1998 at 4:53 a.m.

  • The fire exits were blocked.
  • Keys were kept in an unlocked drawer, readily accessible to juveniles.
  • Knives were readily accessible to the juveniles for use as weapons.

- Department of Correction audit, May 1998

A security audit of the state-run Central Arkansas Observation and Assessment Center for juvenile delinquents raises serious concerns about health and safety, as well as the attitude of the staff.

On April 29, three members of the Arkansas Department of Correction toured the O&A center in North Little Rock, where children in the custody of the state are taken for mental and emotional evaluations before being placed in treatment and correctional programs.

The O&A center opened in 1995 with room for 84 juveniles. On the day of the inspection, it housed 105 boys. The facility is the former North Little Rock jail. It is operated by the Division of Youth Services, a part of the state Department of Human Services.

"I have concerns about the staff caring about the well being of the juveniles housed there," wrote DOC's Tim Moncrief, emergency preparedness coordinator.

"The staff lacked motivation and initiative in attempting to keep the facility clean. In some instances the staff appeared as if they didn't care at all about their working conditions and sanitation of the environment," he wrote.

All rooms were "filthy."

He urged that the staff receive intensive training in self-defense and use of force, writing incident reports and suicide intervention.

"I recommend that a uniform dress code for security and nonsecurity personnel be placed into action as soon as possible," Moncrief wrote. "It was sometimes difficult to make a distinction between the staff and the juveniles."

Quoting from the report, these were the specific problems listed by Shirley Jordan, assistant warden, Wrightsville Unit:

ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES

  • The entire office complex was extremely dirty.
  • The fire exits were blocked.

FIRE AND SAFETY

  • No fire drills are conducted because of the center's overpopulation.
  • There are no fire extinguishers in the pods or central gathering areas. The staff stated that the fire extinguishers could be used as weapons.
  • No fire evacuation plans were posted.

HOUSING UNITS

  • Space is at such a premium that some juveniles are required to sleep on the floor within one foot of a commode.
  • The showers were extremely dirty. Mold, mildew, hair and soap scum were in all.
  • Sinks in several cells did not work.
  • Some toilets backed up into adjoining cells when flushed.
  • Some showers did not work.
  • Brooms and mops were not secured and could be used as weapons.

KITCHEN

  • The kitchen is extremely dirty.
  • Cleaning chemicals were exposed in the food preparation areas.
  • Electronic appliances were above wash areas and plugged-in for use. They could easily fall into the wash sinks.
  • Juveniles assigned to the kitchen are not under direct supervision all the time. They are, therefore, hiding items in the food storage area.

SCHOOL AND INFIRMARY

  • Juveniles wear no identification badges and could, therefore, be issued medicine inappropriately.
  • Juveniles surround the medical staff person during "pill call" and have access to medication in unlocked container drawers.
  • The infirmary is in dire need of cleaning.
  • The classrooms are dirty.
  • The office area is dirty.

CONTROL CENTERS

  • There are no posted orders. The staff has been advised to use "common sense" to do their jobs.
  • No policies or procedures covering emergencies have been made available to the staff. Staff members stated that they were not concerned about fires since the building is concrete.
  • Security personnel receive very little training.

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