By Marylyn Barnett, Good Morning Nebraska & NTV News at Noon Anchor - bio | email
The headlines may have made you recheck your doors a time or two: reports of an assault on staff or an escape from the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center, or YRTC in Kearney.
These reports have put some residents on edge and have sparked debate throughout the community.
Take a look beyond the headlines at what's happening inside the campus.
A past employee of the YRTC confirms what you may have read or heard about from people in the community, saying, “I’ve seen all out riots.”
The assaults on staff members, escapes, dangerous youth, these are all headlines you hear connected to the Kearney YRTC. But YRTC Youth Security Supervisor Joe Poggioli says, “It gets a bad rap.”
Some other former staff members say “…the program is a joke,” and “…the youth run the place.” One former employee says, "Right now the kids have a lot of control up there and they are smart street kids, they understand that. They know it and they pass it down through the groups.”
These personal accounts leave many to wonder just what really is happening behind these brick walls. "It's a hard place to understand if you are out in the general public, " says a former YRTC employee.
Bill Williams from the YRTC Advisory Council explains, "These kids have had some difficulties and have had some serious difficulties in the past and the YRTC confronts those and gives the youth the opportunity to experience some success, learn some skills, and get an education."
Boys sent here bring a range of troubled pasts, from parole violations to drug and alcohol abuse, even up to cases of manslaughter.
An ex-employee shared, “There are kids there on manslaughter charges and you know they have killed kids. They've killed other people but are there on a drug charge because they couldn't pin the crime on them.”
This is a case load current staff say they can handle, but once in a while, a few get out of control.
Ron Cox has worked at the facility for several years and is a security supervisor. He says, “When you work in a high profile volatile situation, which we do, one person can walk through the door and really turn us upside down.”
These things make it easy to think this is a dangerous place that doesn't belong in the community, but some say you need to take a deeper look inside.
Poggioli says, "If people got to know us better,then they would get to understand us better."
Williams adds, "We try to blame YRTC as part of the problem when really they are trying to be part of the solution."
Stay tuned each Thursday over the next few weeks to get a deeper look into the local YRTC.