DCYF: Training school staffers assaulted by juveniles

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Four staff members at the Rhode Island Training School were assaulted by juvenile residents Wednesday night, a spokesperson for the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) said.

Rhode Island State Police confirmed they were called to the facility at 11:20 p.m. Wednesday for a report of a disturbance, and found workers had been injured trying to control the residents.

Kerri White, a spokesperson for DCYF, said the alleged assaults took place outside after a fire alarm activated and a sprinkler system went off.

Four employees, known as juvenile program workers, were assaulted while attempting to maintain order in the courtyard, White said. One was taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries to his face and head.

“He has a broken jaw and a broken eye socket,” said Jerry Minetti, the president of the Local 314 union that represents the juvenile program workers at the training school. The training school houses underage delinquents accused of serious offenses.

Minetti said it’s not uncommon for residents to intentionally break sprinkler heads in order to be evacuated from the facility. He said some tried to climb the fence in the recreation yard, which is not topped with barbed wire.

“I was disgusted,” Minetti said about the alleged assaults. “This is not a daycare. This is a correctional facility. We house a lot of dangerous kids here who have committed very serious charges.”

Minetti said the union has already filed a health and safety grievance with the DCYF because of under-staffing concerns and violence in the training school facilities.

He said unlike traditional correctional officers, juvenile program workers are not equipped with any tools like pepper spray or shields, which he said could have helped control the situation Wednesday night.

“They need to get this under control,” Minetti said, referring to the DCYF. “A plan has to be put in place to make sure no one else gets injured.”

Minetti said he does credit the new DCYF director, Trista Piccola, with hiring some new juvenile program workers to replace recent retirements.

Minetti said the union would prefer staffing levels to remain at a 1:8 ratio with residents. He said the ratio was closer to 1:12 during the melee Wednesday.

In response to the union’s concerns, the DCYF told Eyewitness News the training school follows standards published by the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which require staff-to-resident ratios of 1:8 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and a ratio of 1:12 overnight from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

The chaos on Wednesday happened shortly after the switch to the overnight shift, but Kerri White said the ratios were still well above the requirements, with three workers supervising 20 residents and another two workers supervising nine residents.

White also said a federal decree that the training school is under and the JDAI are “adamantly opposed” to the use of pepper spray at juvenile detention centers. She said other weapons like shields would be “highly inappropriate” for the population, and in conflict with the mission of the school.

DCYF said state police took statements and are looking into whether further charges are warranted for the residents involved. State police declined to comment further on their ongoing investigation, other than to say the juveniles would be referred to Family Court.

State police would not say how many juveniles are facing charges.