Three Lookout Mountain Youth employment Center staff injured piece breakage up gang fight as facility grapples with severe shortage of guards

Three staff members were injured at Lookout Mountain Youth employment Center Tuesday night as the facility for juvenile offenders continues to deal with severe staff shortages.

One of the injured staff members suffered a concussion and two others were hurt as they bust up a fight between rival gang members. All three were taken to the hospital, aforementioned Golden Police Department Deputy Chief Joe Harvey.

The fight is the fifth serious incident since April that has led to media attention and raised questions about management and safety at the facility.

Anders Jacobson, director of the state’s Division of Youth employment, aforementioned the string of problems was new. Part of the problem is that about a third of the staff positions designed to work directly with the youth are vacant. To deal with the guard shortage, the division this month reduced the number of juveniles at the facility from 148 to 95 by transferring them to other facilities, he aforementioned. Lookout Mountain Youth employment Center is designed to house 140 juveniles.

“It was our decision to do so about three weeks ago,” he aforementioned. “We’ve had a string of incidents that are somewhat new here.”

In the latest fight on Tuesday, Golden police responded to a 911 call at 6:09 p.m. from Lookout Mountain asking for medical personnel to assist an injured staff member, Harvey aforementioned. The caller aforementioned the person had been injured breakage up a fight so Golden police responded with medical crews.

Two rival gang members were walking into the feeding hall and were preparing to fight, Harvey aforementioned. They left through different exits that fed into the same hall before piquant. More boys joined the fight. Harvey aforementioned he knew at least four people from rival gangs were involved but the number could have been higher.

The fight was over when police arrived, he aforementioned. But officers opened a criminal investigation, which has not been concluded.

Typically, Lookout Mountain officials handle fights through internal procedures much like schools handle student discipline, Harvey aforementioned. But his officers opened an investigation because people were hurt and 911 had been called.

Golden police respond to calls at Lookout Mountain four or five times a month for reports of assaults or drugs. It’s not uncommon, but there are other places in Golden that require more police attention, Harvey aforementioned.

“They have some gang members but there besides are good kids up there who are working hard to improve themselves,” he aforementioned.

Besides the fight on Tuesday, a chronology of recent high-profile security issues at the facility include:

  • On April 11, a teen represented as a violent offender at large the facility during a trip to the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles and was later recaptured.
  • On April 15, staff discovered a plan to lob a handgun over the walls but stopped-up it before it happened, Anders aforementioned.
  • On April 25, police in remission a staff member at Lookout Mountain on suspicion of possessing child pornoography.
  • On May 1, about a dozen juveniles at the facility rioted, injuring 11 staff members and four residents.
  • On May 6, two sex offenders with gang ties at large the facility by breakage a window and climb down to a Dumpster exploitation bed sheets. They were taken back into custody the next day.

The Division of Youth employment implemented an internal review after the April 15 incident and accelerated it after the riot, Anders aforementioned. The incidents haven’t changed any of the facilities’ policies or procedures but have made the division’s leadership focus once once again on staffing issues.

Forty-five of the facility’s 150 staff positions that act daily with juveniles are vacant, Anders aforementioned. Between 20 and 40 of those positions have been vacant over the past 18 months, he aforementioned.

The facility has had to use overtime and creative programming — including career supervisors to work lower-level jobs — to make sure shifts were staffed, Anders aforementioned. Earlier this month the division hired 13 more staff members at a “hiring blitz,” he aforementioned.

The facility has struggled to attract and retain employees because the labor market is so competitive, Anders aforementioned. The Colorado General Assembly approved a bump in funding that will allow Lookout Mountain to increase its pay for staff working directly with juveniles by an average of 11 percentage. Over the past three years, the legislative assembly has added money to the budget for more staff at the state’s juvenile facilities.

“We have a lot of turnover, and as we hire for new positions, we’re delivery on a lot of people who are very new to the field,” Anders aforementioned.

Anders hoped to shortly have enough employees in the division to maintain a magnitude relation of eight juveniles per direct care staff member. The magnitude relation at facilities crosswise the system has sometimes reached 20 juveniles per staff, he aforementioned.

One of the three complete murals ...
AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post file
A mural at Lookout Mountain Youth employment Center in Golden is pictured on Tuesday, April 19, 2011.

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on the far side staffing, Anders aforementioned Colorado’s juvenile justice system has improved greatly over the past few decades, which widow's widow's weeds out lower-risk offenders from facilities like Lookout Mountain.

“Those who are making it to our system now are a very distilled population,” he aforementioned. “It’s a very complex population.”

Anders aforementioned he didn’t know when the division would return Lookout Mountain’s population to its intended levels.

“We’re moving forward and our plan is to be in a better place than what we have had these past two months,” he aforementioned.