DCYF: Executive director at Training School steps down, new safety plans announced

Recent incidents at the Rhode Island Training School prompted the report.

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) on Tuesday confirmed that Kevin McKenna is stepping down as executive director of the Thomas C. Slater Training School, less than one week after an incident at the Cranston facility sent five people to the hospital.

According to the DCYF, former Training School Acting Superintendent Kevin Aucoin will temporarily take over McKenna’s position. Aucoin has worked for DCYF since 1983 and is currently the agency’s council in federal court litigation.

“I certainly have a lot of background and a lot of direct familiarity with operations and staffing at the facility in those various capacities,” Aucoin said.

“DCYF is taking immediate steps to ensure the safety and security of staff and residents at the Training School,” DCYF Director Dr. Trista Piccola said. “Our Juvenile Program Workers have a tough job and we need to ensure that they have the resources needed to do their work, and that our facilities and programming are up to the task of helping rehabilitate the youth in our care.”

A Rhode Island State Police captain will provide additional security at the training school for the next 90 days, according to the DCYF. In addition, the agency said it will conduct a 60-day review of the facility  that will be committed to enhancing operations and “improving the outcomes for its juvenile residents.”

The Department of Corrections will also provide assistance at the school for at least two months, the DCYF said.

“We’ve got to do something different, we’re obviously missing something,” Piccola said. “We took some actions after the May incident. Some things worked, obviously some things didn’t, so we needed to take more drastic steps at this point.”

Residents at the Roosevelt Benton Center on Monday were moved into the school’s primary detention facility. Piccola said the consolidation will help alleviate some of the mandatory overtime and eliminate the technical issues they’ve been having with the other building.

“We have the proper recording equipment and it does work at the Youth Development Center,” said Piccola.

Aucoin said fixing things like the camera system and the security doors will be a top priority.

“We’re going to be looking at the programming, we’re going to look at security, we’re going to look at the operational protocol,” Aucoin said.

Piccola said they will also be adding new staff in the near future.

“We only have seven vacancies left in the JPW classification. We have our academy in place right now, they finish up this Friday and we’ll prepared to make offers to fill those last positions,” she said.

Jerry Minetti, union president and Juvenile Program Worker at the training school, said he believes leadership has taken a step in the right direction with these changes but there’s still more they’d like to see done.

“Although the union and Kevin Aucoin do not agree on everything, Kevin Aucoin has been one of those leaders who listens to the union and values and respects our opinion,” Minetti said.

Minetti said of the 69 JPWs, 37 are out on leave, most for injuries they obtained on the job.

“For some reason this population that we have not is extremely violent,” he added.

Minetti said members would still like more protection, such as access to pepper spray in extreme situations, but right now DCYF isn’t budging.

“We’re not pursuing pepper spray at this point, no,” Piccola said.

“That would be a mistake, in my opinion,” said Minetti. “I really believe that we have to have tools for the membership in order to do our jobs.”

The latest incident at the Training School has sparked a number of reactions in recent days. The president of the union that represents training school employees previously said he feared “someone will die” if conditions at the Training School did not improve. State Rep. Bobby Nardolillo also called on Gov. Gina Raimondo to launch an investigation into the incident.

Back in May, a separate incident at the Training School left four injured.