- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2003

Guards at the District’s Oak Hill Youth Center in Laurel said yesterday they are poorly equipped and encounter more dangers than guards at adult jails and prisons.

“Every day, these officers walk the toughest beat that there is,” said Louis B. Cannon, an inspector at the U.S. Mint Police and president of the D.C. Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“These problems have been around for years,” Mr. Cannon said.

Adult inmates seldom fight guards or each other, said Robert Miller, chief of Oak Hill corrections. But Oak Hill inmates, ages 10 to 18, have kicked and hit guards, fought each other and spread blood and spit on guards who break up the fights or try to restrain them.

Approximately 200 officers are assigned to Oak Hill, which has beds for 188 inmates. The daily roll fluctuates between 168 and 175. Many of the inmates are charged with rape, drug abuse, robbery, murder, car theft and other dangerous crimes, Officer Miller said.

“It has reached a point where the staff is at risk,” said lawyer Reuben A. Guttman, who filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police against the D.C. Department of Human Services and Oak Hill authorities.

Mr. Guttman said the lawsuit was filed because requests for more guards, equipment and improvements over the years have gone unanswered.

“They have repeatedly appealed to the city for help. This lawsuit is basically to make that workplace safe,” he said.

“Every day I say a prayer when I walk through the gates,” said Corrections Officer Henry Davis, 42, one of the 53 officers who in the past year were injured and threatened with infections from diseases of teen-age inmates.

Examples of reports say officers have been:

• Struck in the head with a metal coffee pot.

• Cut in the eye while restraining a resident.

• Punched and had a nose broken.

• Injured in the head after being struck with a broom handle.

• Injured in the side after being kicked.

• Injured in the left arm after being bitten.

Officer Davis said some of the youthful inmates are more than 6 feet tall weigh as much as 242 pounds.

“I had to intercede to break up a fight,” said Officer Davis, who is about the same size. The front and back of his shirt were soaked with blood and there was concern he might become infected with HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis or Legionnaire’s disease carried by many youthful criminals.

While gloves, a primary protection against blood-born pathogens, are supplied to guards at adult corrections facilities, the Oak Hill guards have never had them, Officer Miller said.

“We break up a fight every other day, or on some occasions, every day,” he said. “We are short of staff. We have officers who are working two shifts.”

Oak Hill guards do not have metal detectors and many don’t have two-way radios. Some of the radios they do have don’t work and were partly to blame for the escape of seven inmates a few years ago.

Escapees had cut through the fence around Oak Hill, which has no motion sensors. Cameras to monitor the corrections facility often do not function, Officer Miller said.

Not all juveniles offenders are in Oak Hill. About 40 are among the 2,400 adults in D.C. jails, said Pamela Chase, chairman of the FOP’s D.C. Department of Corrections.

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