State Officials Urge Control of YRTC - Kearney be Transferred Ba - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

State Officials Urge Control of YRTC - Kearney be Transferred Back to Dept. of Corrections

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By Nina Harrelson  nharrelson@nebraska.tv

Assaults on employees at Kearney's Youth Rehab and Treatment Center have doubled in the last year, and now state officials are urging for control of the center to be transferred from the department of health and human services back to the department of corrections.

YRTC Kearney houses an average of 160 troubled youth who've had run-ins with the law. Courts send them there for troubles ranging from mental issues, drug-related problems and even violence, which is why Sen. Galen Hadley thinks the facility should be put back into the hands of the state corrections department.

"I visited out there a couple -- two or three weeks ago -- Senator Ashford and I actually took a tour, spent time talking to the staff, and while we were there, a young man took the two-way radio from the staff and beat him over the head with it five times," Hadley said.

Unfortunately, incidents like this are not uncommon. Assaults on employees have more than doubled in the last year. 

"There is one assault for every 2.5 employees per year, which is to me, a staggering number," Hadley said. "That's like anybody going to work and one in three of your co-workers is going to be assaulted."

Assaults amongst youth are also on the rise.

"There are kids who understand there isn't much in the way of punishment if they're caught," Hadley said.

Opponents of the bill say giving control to prison officials would shift the center's focus from treatment to confinement and punishment.

But Sen. Hadley says some of the youth don't want help.

"About 80 percent of the young boys that go out there -- and we say young, the average age is 16 when they come there -- want treatment," Hadley said, "They respond to the rehabilitation. The 20 percent that don't want rehabilitation, don't want treatment -- they're the ones that are causing the problems."

In a hearing Wednesday, state officials said the jump in assaults is, in part, due to gang ties and overcrowding at the facility. Currently, as many as 40 boys share dorm-style rooms.

"Of course it would be better not to have them in dormitory facilities -- to have them in either private or double rooms. That would certainly help," Hadley said.

Hadley says if something doesn't change, the facility is going to have problems finding and keeping employees.

"If you stay there long enough, you're basically going to be assaulted," Hadley said.

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