WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate labor committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and employment and workplace safety subcommittee chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) on Sept. 18 called for the Department of Labor (DOL) to resolve safety failures in its Job Corps program, after two students were murdered in separate attacks at Job Corps centers this year. The Job Corps program is the nation’s largest education and vocational program for at-risk youth.
In a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, the senators wrote, “Recent reports of violence suggest there are major problems in Job Corps’ ability to keep its students and staff safe.”
They ask Perez to provide information on what the Department of Labor is doing to ensure safety at Job Corps centers, where many high school age students both live and study.
In February, the DOL Office for Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that found Job Corps center management was not consistently enforcing the zero tolerance policy for violence and have allowed potentially dangerous students to remain enrolled.
The OIG also made recommendations to address these problems. In 2015, there have been two students murdered at Job Corps centers in St. Louis, Mo., and Homestead, Fla.
The letter asks a series of questions about the status of those actions recommended by the OIG report as well as what DOL is doing to respond to the recent murders of Job Corps students, in order to make timely and meaningful changes and keep students safe.
In part, the letter notes:
- In February 2015, the DOL OIG issued a report that found systemic weaknesses in safety protocols at all 125 Job Corps centers across the country.
- The DOL OIG reviewed security logs for 11 selected centers and identified 277 students who had committed potential Level I or Level II infractions.
- Fifty-eight of those 277 potential violations committed by students were not recorded in the appropriate system, nor was there any evidence to show required disciplinary action was taken, and 41 were incorrectly downgraded to lesser infractions.
- According to the OIG report, management at Job Corps centers wanted to give students who committed serious misconduct a second chance or were trying to avoid negative performance outcomes. Regardless of management’s intent, their actions threatened the safety of Job Corps students and staff. For example, one center in Tulsa failed to investigate or take disciplinary action when a student was found with illegal drugs, a Level I offense that should have resulted in expulsion from the program. Instead, the student was allowed to remain in the program until he assaulted another student 12 days later.
- In April, a Job Corps student was shot and killed in his dormitory at the St. Louis Job Corps center. Another Job Corps student was charged with his murder. A student interviewed by the St. Louis Post Dispatch said he had heard rumors that some students had concealed weapons, but he never saw security use their hand-held metal detector.
- In July, another Job Corps student was found gruesomely murdered by a machete outside the Homestead Job Corps center in Florida. In August, four of his fellow Job Corps students were charged with the murder. According to news reports, law enforcement sources said the students charged with murder were known as bullies at the Home-stead Job Corps center, and one of the students is believed to have dealt drugs. The Miami Herald reported that the 17 year-old victim was known as a peaceful boy.
The safety failures of the Job Corps program demand immediate attention, and the Committee would like to know what steps are being taken to improve safety.
To read the full letter, visit http://bit.ly/Job-Corps-Safety. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) may be reached via his website’s contact page at alexander.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email.