Seem that things haven’t gotten a whole bunch better. When Republicans “privatize” government…
This is what really goes on.
Youth Services International confronted a potentially expensive situation. It was early 2004, only three months into the private prison company’s $9.5 million contract to run Thompson Academy, a juvenile prison in Florida, and already the facility had become a scene of documented violence and neglect.
One guard had fractured an inmate’s elbow after the boy refused instructions to throw away a cup, according to incident reports. Another guard had slammed a boy’s head into the floor after an argument. The prison was infested with ants and cockroaches,toilets were frequently clogged and children reported finding bugsin their meager portions of food.
“From day one, it was hell,” said Jerry Blanton, a former monitor with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, who was then tasked with inspecting Thompson Academy.
Conditions appeared so foul and perilous that he told his supervisors that he “emphatically recommended that the facility be closed,”according to a memo about the discussions.
What happened next speaks to how Youth Services International has managed to forge a lucrative business running private juvenile prisons in Florida and 15 other states even amid mounting evidence of abuse. The company used connections with state officials to complain that Blanton was intimidating staff. Less than a week later, the state removed him as monitor of the facility. Two months after that, he was fired.
Thompson remained open, and Youth Services International retained its contract to operate it. In the nine years since, the company has won an additional eight contracts in Florida, bringing 4,100 more youths through its facilities, according to state records. All the while, complaints of abuse and neglect have remained constant.
Florida leads the nation in placing state prisons in the hands of private, profit-making companies. In recent years, the state has privatized the entirety of its $183 million juvenile commitment system — the nation’s third-largest, trailing only California and Texas. Florida not only relies on private contractors to self-report escapes and incidents of violence and abuse, but the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice routinely awards contracts to private prison operators without scrutinizing their records, a Huffington Post investigation has found.
“We thought DJJ was going to be our biggest ally,” said Gordon Weekes, the chief juvenile public defender in Broward County, who has for years complained to the state about conditions inside two YSI prisons there. “They turned out to be the ally of the corporations, and the ally of the system.”
Florida’s permissive oversight has allowed Youth Services International to essentially game the system since entering the state more than a decade ago. Despite contractual requirements that the company report serious incidents at its facilities, YSI routinely fails to document problems, sanitizes those reports it does submit and pressures inmates to withhold evidence of mistreatment, according to interviews with 14 former YSI employees.
“The state is not doing enough,” said Wanda Williams, a former staffer at YSI’s Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, who quit in 2010 after growing disgusted with the violence and squalid conditions she saw inside the prison. “Because if they were, that place should have been shut down by now.”
Executives at YSI declined requests for interviews made over the last four months. In an emailed response to questions, Senior Vice President Jesse Williams said the company’s juvenile prisons are some of the best in Florida. He added that the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice rigorously inspects the facilities.
“The DJJ has a very meticulous monitoring system,” he said. “There are numerous announced and unannounced visits to each facility to check for quality assurance and contract compliance, and we do very well in our reviews.”
Williams denied that the company fails to report serious incidents to the state. “Our policy is to report everything,” he said. “In fact, we communicate to our employees that if there are any doubts about whether it is a reportable incident to go ahead and notify DJJ.”
Senior officials at the Department of Juvenile Justice declined interview requests. The agency refused to discuss specific details of HuffPost’s findings, though a spokeswoman issued a statement asserting the department is committed to ensuring that youth in its system “remain safe and are given every opportunity to thrive.” She said contract oversight is one of the agency’s top priorities.
“With 100 percent of the agency’s residential services provided through contractors, the contract selection and renewal process is paramount to our success,” said the spokeswoman, Meghan Speakes Collins, in an email.
Since 2011, when Republican Gov. Rick Scott took office in Florida, the department has “revamped” its review of contractors, she added, by engaging in deeper statistical analysis of trends such as high staff turnover and the number of altercations between staff and youth.
Kirkham goes on to write, quote, “In 2001, an 18-year-old committed to a Texas boot camp operated by one of Slattery’s previous companies, Correctional Services Corp., came down with pneumonia and pleaded to see a doctor as he struggled to breathe. Guards accused the teen of faking it and forced him to do pushups in his own vomit, according to Texas law enforcement reports. After nine days of medical neglect, he died.
That same year, auditors in Maryland found that staff at one of Slattery’s juvenile facilities coaxed inmates to fight on Saturday mornings as a way to settle disputes from earlier in the week. In recent years, the company has failed to report riots, assaults and claims of sexual abuse at its juvenile prisons in Florida, according to a review of state records and accounts from former employees and inmates.
Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s juvenile delinquents are today committed to private facilities, according to the most recent federal data from 2011, up from about 33 percent twelve years earlier.
Over the past two decades, more than 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states have gone through one of Slattery’s prisons, boot camps or detention centers, according to a Huffington Post analysis of juvenile facility data.
Out of more than 300 institutions surveyed, a YSI detention center in Georgia had the highest rate of youth alleging sexual assaults in the country, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
A YSI facility in Palm Beach County had the highest rate of reported sexual assaults out of 36 facilities reviewed in Florida, the Bureau of Justice Statistics report found….