CLAVERACK — CSEA is pushing for needed safety changes at Brookwood Secure Center.
In mid-September, a riot broke out at the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) secure youth facility, notorious for its violent culture and frequent assaults on staff.
Eight residents instigated a spree of violence that included pulling wood off bulletin boards to wield it as weapons, smashing security cameras, throwing furniture and beating, kicking and punching staff.
Facility staff called 911 to get the facility under control. First responders, including five local police departments and New York State Police, rushed to the scene.
For several hours, social media buzzed with speculation, while employees’ families feared the worst.
Three staff members were transported to the hospital for treatment of cuts, bruises, sprains and a broken cheek bone resulting from kicks, punches and blows wrought by residents spilling out from two different units.
Union takes action
Following the incident, CSEA called for the immediate transfer of the most violent offenders to other facilities.
A CSEA news release garnered local media attention, including two nights of coverage on the area’s NBC news affiliate.
In late September, CSEA Brookwood Secure Local President Todd Gardner, along with CSEA member and Youth Division Aide (YDA) 4 Roscoe Adams, did an on-camera interview from outside the facility. During that interview, they announced that a transfer of 16 of the most assaultive residents had taken place the day following our union’s news release.
Speaking to reporters, Gardner discussed the toll the assaults have taken on staff working in such an extreme environment.
“At the end of the day, we just want to get home to our families,” he said.
CSEA’s Occupational Safety and Health Department quickly notified OCFS of the intent to conduct a full safety review. A statewide review was launched to learn actions management is taking to address conditions at the facility and understand factors contributing to the incident.
Second, a local meeting was held at Brookwood to perform a workplace violence prevention assessment and establish control measures for each risk factor that led to the incident in accordance with agency policy.
Short staffing and the high number of staff out on workers’ compensation due to workplace injuries and attacks puts unimaginable strain on existing staff who are continuously mandated overtime.
Recently, in recognition of the overtime employees were facing, CSEA and OCFS negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) through the end of the year increasing overtime payments for Youth Division Aides and Counselors to 2.5 times regular salary.
The transfer of violent residents tamps down a hostile environment, reduces injuries and creates a more conducive environment for youth residents to be able to take advantage of the educational and counseling programs offered.
“We still have a long way to go in creating a safer work environment for the members who work at secure juvenile detention facilities, but it appears that OCFS has started to take this situation seriously and that’s a good first step,” said CSEA Capital Region President Ron Briggs. “We will be watching to make sure more steps are taken.”
— Therese Assalian
Top photo: Brookwood Secure Center Local member Roscoe Adams, center, and Local President Todd Gardner, right, give a television news interview to WNYT anchor Subrina Dhammi on the current status of Brookwood following a September riot at the center, during which several CSEA members were injured.