After Murders and Other Violence, Federal Job Corps Program Comes Under Scrutiny

Lisa Rein, Washington Post, August 27, 2015

The arrests this month of four young men on charges they hacked a fellow student to death in a federally funded job training center in Miami–and another murder in St. Louis this spring–are putting a spotlight on violence inside Job Corps.

The antipoverty program born during President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty to give low-income teenagers free vocational training has been beset by violence for years, with lax enforcement of discipline policies set by the Labor Department, which runs the 125 job centers around the country.

The recent murders have prompted the agency’s inspector general, which earlier this year documented violence and other safety concerns that investigators said went unreported, to launch a deeper investigation into safety in the $1.7 billion program.

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In April, prosecutors charged a 20-year-old man with first-degree murder for shooting a fellow student in the chest while he lay in his dorm room bed on the St. Louis Job Corps campus. The suspect was a new student who was in the process of moving into the victim’s room, published reports said. The motive was unclear.

This violence followed the rape of a female student at the Oregon Job Corps center by a male security guard who pleaded guilty last year, and reports of assaults, sex abuse and drug abuse on the campus in McKinney, Tex.

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But the inspector general found in February that despite the zero-tolerance policy for violence and illegal drugs, local job corps centers have failed to report and investigate serious misconduct like drug abuse and assaults, and many downgrade violent infractions to lesser infractions to keep students enrolled.

A physical assault that causes bodily harm is supposed to lead to automatic expulsion from the program. But students with drug and violence histories were allowed to stay, investigators found.

The job centers are run mostly by outside contractors. They’ve been plagued in recent years by financial mismanagement and cost overruns that led to a halt in new enrollments in 2013.  The program’s 60,000 students typically live on campus.

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