The U.S. government’s $1.6 billion vocational program for at-risk youth was created decades ago to end poverty by offering poor teenagers free job training, but it’s a seriously mismanaged hotbed of violence rife with violent crimes that are routinely covered up by officials in charge.
The crisis appears to have plateaued recently when four youths participating in the program, known as Job Corps, brutally murdered a fellow student in a Miami, Florida job training center. The area’s mainstream newspaper reported that the Job Corps students confessed to luring a 17-year-old to the woods, where he was repeatedly hacked with a machete and forced into a shallow grave as he lay mortally wounded. The sickening details came right out of the police report. Months earlier a murder occurred at a Job Corps facility in St. Louis, Missouri.
The recent crimes are part of a much broader problem within the Job Corps, which serves about 60,000 low-income students ages 16-24 at 125 centers nationwide. The Department of Labor (DOL) administers Job Corps, which has also been plagued with fraud and corruption over the years, and insists it has a strict policy forbidding any kind of violence or illegal drugs. The reality is however, that crime is rampant at local centers around the country and seldom do cases get reported or adequately investigated. Often officials sweep incidents under the rug or downplay them to prevent the offenders from getting booted out of the taxpayer-funded program.
In fact, earlier this year a scathing DOL Inspector General report blasted the agency for failing to take action involving lax enforcement of Job Corps disciplinary policies that had been well documented in previous investigations. The “continuing deficiencies” have allowed “potentially dangerous students in the program,” investigators wrote, further revealing that an astounding 35,021 serious misconduct incidents occurred at 11 centers alone. In many cases serious infractions were not reported or were improperly downgraded to lesser infractions, the agency watchdog found. They include assault, illegal drugs and fighting among the students.
For instance, at a North Carolina center a violent physical altercation landed one student with enough injuries to require hospitalization yet the crime was downgraded and no disciplinary action was taken, in violation of established rules. At an Oklahoma center a student struck another student in the head with an object yet remained enrolled as if nothing ever happened, even though the injury required five stitches. At a Pennsylvania facility a student was busted with drugs on the Job Corps property yet faced no consequences. There are many more examples in fact, 51 students who should have been automatically discharged, remained in the program. Not surprisingly, they went on to commit other crimes, the IG confirms in its report.
Some of the Job Corps centers are operated by independent contractors, but many are directly run by the U.S. government which makes the violations all the more outrageous. For instance, of 47 centers that retained 177 students who should have been discharged for disciplinary reasons, eight were federally operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The public funds wasted to keep the 177 thugs enrolled could have been used to house and educate other at-risk youth who are more committed to be in the program, the DOL watchdog points out.
Job Corps has been in trouble for more than just covering up serious crimes over the years. There has also been fraud involving the waste of public funds and abuse of prepaid debit cards as well as unscrupulous contract practices. Last year a federal audit identified nearly a quarter of a million dollars in questionable personal purchases made by staff and students on government debit cards. A separate probe determined that Job Corps doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in questionable contracts and failed to keep proper documentation for others worth tens of millions of dollars.