Worker training at the Macomb County, Mi., Juvenile Justice Center consistently falls short of state standards, despite recent allegations of child abuse and at least two state inspections calling for change, says the Detroit News. The state documented major training shortcomings at the center in 2001 but never ensured that promised improvements occurred. A Detroit News review of the center’s 2002 records showed that only four of its 98 employees had the 25 hours of annual training required to work with children. The center spent less than one-third of the nearly $74,000 county commissioners allocated for staff training between 1998 and 2002.
Critics say the result is a lack of preparedness that endangers both the employees and the more than 1,100 juveniles — criminal offenders and abused or neglected children — who enter the center each year. “We believe the administrators there have imperiled the safety of children by not ensuring the staff are trained as they should be,” said Greg Murray of the Macomb Ministerial Alliance, a citizens group that has pushed for a federal investigation of the center. “It’s an example of the mind-set that this is just a holding pen.”
Macomb County officials who oversee the center’s operations suggest that training records do not give a true picture of the center’s record. “Children are absolutely not in danger,” said Chief Circuit Court Judge Peter J. Maceroni, who has the authority to hire or fire the center’s 20-year superintendent. “Many of the incidents people are pointing to are misunderstood and blown out of proportion.”
One member of the Macomb County Commission, which pays the center’s bills, has formed a citizens committee to review center operations and has concluded the superintendent, Ron Gekiere, should be replaced.
Last week, a state report said a lack of staff training contributed to an incident of sexual misconduct between two males in the center’s shower area in November. In December, the family of Eric Seales filed a suit claiming physical abuse in 2001. Seales, 20, who has charged youth workers with beating, gagging, and then keeping him in restraints for four hours, said, “I could have died that day,” said Seales, now 20. “These guys wouldn’t take the gag off my face and I was choking on my own blood.”