State hiring new juvenile corrections monitorPIERRE (AP) — The state will soon hire a new juvenile corrections monitor for a program that investigates allegations of mistreatment at South Dakota reform schools, an official said Tuesday.
By: CHET BROKAW, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — The state will soon hire a new juvenile corrections monitor for a program that investigates allegations of mistreatment at South Dakota reform schools, an official said Tuesday.
Human Services Secretary Laurie Gill told a legislative committee that a replacement likely will be hired within a few months for John Ellis, the previous juvenile monitor who retired in December.
Ellis had held the job since 2000, when the position was created after a girl died in a state juvenile corrections facility. The monitor works in the Human Services Department to maintain independence from the Corrections Department, which runs the juvenile rehabilitation programs.
Gill said the new monitor could be working by July 1 if hiring and training are completed by then.
In the meantime, another Human Services Department employee is handling routine checks with boys and girls in juvenile programs located in Custer, Gill said. A former law enforcement officer is under contract to conduct any detailed investigations of abuse or neglect in the programs, she said.
"They have plenty of work to do. There have been plenty of things to follow up on," Gill told the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee.
Sen. Jeff Haverly, R-Rapid City, asked whether the two doing the job temporarily could handle the duties long term, but Gill said state law specifically requires that a full-time monitor be hired.
The monitor is required to give the committee a report every six months, and Gill presented the report Ellis completed before he retired.
Ellis reported that in the last six months of 2011 he received 62 contacts from juveniles in the Custer facilities, and two required detailed investigations.
Gill said one case involved the use of force by a staff member, and Ellis substantiated abuse and neglect in the case. The Corrections Department took personnel action in the case and conducted some extra staff training, she said.
In a second case, a girl was able to get away from a group and apparently intended to commit suicide, Gill said. Ellis found no abuse or neglect, but he recommended possible personnel action involving some staff and additional staff training, she said.
The Corrections Department has taken extra steps to keep track of juveniles, Gill said.
Doug Hermann, head of juvenile programs in the Corrections Department, said the agency also received six reports of alleged problems at the eight private facilities where troubled youth are placed for special treatment programs. Abuse or neglect was substantiated in one case where a facility's staff member kicked a juvenile who had kicked the staff member, he said.
The juvenile corrections monitor's job was created after 14-year-old Gina Score died of heat exhaustion in 1999 after failing to complete a required run at a former girls' boot camp in Plankinton. Staff members left her lying on the ground for three hours on a hot July day because they thought she was faking.
The girl died on the way to the hospital. Two staff members were charged, but a jury acquitted them of child abuse.
The boot camp was closed and replaced with far different programs in Custer.