Massachusetts DYS Commissioner Opposes Legislation Aimed at Curbing Brutal Assaults on Staff 07/13/2011

Three weeks after failing to attend a hearing on legislation that would provide a safer work environment for Department of Youth Services (DYS) Employees, DYS Commissioner Jane Tewksbury appeared before a legislative panel to defend her opposition to the measure.

Testifying yesterday before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Children Families and Persons with Disabilities, Tewksbury publicly stated her opposition to HB2677, a bill that would require DYS management to report serious assaults to district attorneys for investigation and possible prosecution. Council 93 had the legislation filed after more than three years of attempting to resolve the problem of rampant, brutal assaults on staff.

On June 21, Local 1368 members turned out in force for a hearing before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, sharing graphic stories with lawmakers about the assaults they suffered and the lack of support and protection they received from DYS.  But Tewksbury did not attend, prompting lawmakers to take the unusual step of extending the public hearing until Tewksbury could find the time to appear and answer questions. 

Under the current policies of Tewksbury, staff members who are assaulted by juveniles and young adults in their custody are left to pursue charges on their own – as private citizens. Staff members are discouraged from filing charges and at least in a few known cases, are hindered by DYS’s lack of cooperation with law enforcement and district attorneys investigating the assaults.  Tewksbury has counter-intuitively maintained that holding individuals legally accountable for the assaults would harm efforts to rehabilitate the offenders.  Council 93 and members of Local 1368 maintain the legislation will serve as a strong deterrent to future assaults by consistently demonstrating to the assailants that there will always be legal repercussions for their illegal actions. 

In her testimony yesterday, Tewksbury maintained her stance and claimed her office has been taking steps to reduce the amount of assaults.  She also claimed her office provides support to staff members who choose to pursue charges on their own and denied any knowledge of DYS’s lack of cooperation with law enforcement. Her claims prompted looks of shock and disbelief from the dozens of Local 1368 members and staff who attended the hearing. Following the commissioner’s testimony, AFSCME staff and local 1368 members took the stand again to rebut the claims of the commissioner.      

The Joint Committee on Children Families and Persons with Disabilities is responsible for reviewing the proposed legislation, taking testimony from concerned parties, and making a recommendation for or against support by the full legislature.  Council 93’s Department of Legislation, Political Action and Communications is advocating for a prompt and favorable recommendation from the committee so the bill can advance to the next step in the legislative process.