It sounds great in theory: Serve 60,000 disadvantaged students at 125 centers across the country and help America’s deserving youth learn critical skills to succeed in today’s workplace. That, alas, has not always been the reality in an important government-run program.
A new Inspector General’s report from the Department of Labor says officials from the $1.6 billion Office of Job Corps have “systematically” covered up illegal and dangerous offenses committed by some students in order to keep those students in the program.
The Jobs Corps is a free training program run by the Labor Department. Its description says it helps “young people learn a career, earn a high school diploma or GED, and find and keep a good job.” But the IG says program officials have been covering up assaults and drug use, among other alleged offenses, by some students over a sustained period of time.
Auditors said officials had “failed to report potentially serious misconduct infractions.” When officials did come forward and report misconduct, they reduced the charges from violent acts to less serious violations, according to the IG.
It is clearly a concern that students committing violent acts or other types of misconduct are taking up valuable space in a federal program. The IG said that at least 12 centers refused to investigate or punish dangerous acts by students and failed to enforce the program’s zero-tolerance policy.
Jobs Corps has reportedly had similar issues for some time. The IG says the agency has not reported student infractions for years.
“[Officials] told us the centers became unsafe because students knew there would be no repercussions for bad behavior,” the inspector general said. “One residential advisor said she would not leave her dormitory during her night shift because she feared what might happen if she went outside.”
Among other things, the IG is recommending the assistant secretary for employment and training require Job Corps centers to strengthen their policies and clearly define and articulate student infractions. The centers should take steps to correct them and deter such behavior in the future.
Founded in 1964, Jobs Corps – which has its own Facebook page – is the country’s largest career technical training and education program for low-income youth aged 16 through 24. Its motto is “Success lasts a lifetime.”
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