Kids Claim Abuse and Violence at Juvenile Lockup Thompson Academy

A for-profit Sarasota company, Youth Services International, has a $14.8 million, three-year state contract to operate the facility. Youth Services President James Slattery has been running private prisons for nearly 20 years. And despite corporate name changes, mergers, and moves, his companies have been haunted by scandals.

He began by renting decrepit hotel rooms to homeless families in New York. Then he helped found Esmor Correctional Services, which ran halfway houses and prisons in several states. In 1995, Immigration and Naturalization Services detainees at one of Esmor's New Jersey prisons rioted over disgusting living conditions and abuse — including allegations that the guards beat them and shoved their heads in toilet bowls. Embarrassed by the national scandal, the company moved its headquarters to Sarasota. Within months, Esmor, with Slattery as president, had signed contracts to run two juvenile detention centers in Florida and switched its name to Correctional Services Corp.

But the bad headlines continued. In 1998, state officials found that guards at the company's Pahokee prison were physically abusing kids and holding them beyond their release dates to collect extra money. The state canceled Correctional Services' contract. Yet the company survived and merged with another firm that ran juvenile lockups. In 2005, with Slattery at the helm, Youth Services International broke away from Correctional Services and became an independent business, focused on juvenile detention.

Mothers of teenagers incarcerated at Thompson Academy have urged the state to cancel the facility's contract.
Michael McElroy
Mothers of teenagers incarcerated at Thompson Academy have urged the state to cancel the facility's contract.
Gordon Weekes Jr., chief assistant public defender in Broward, says his clients have complained for years about violence at Thompson.
Michael McElroy
Gordon Weekes Jr., chief assistant public defender in Broward, says his clients have complained for years about violence at Thompson.

Youth Services now runs eight juvenile lockups in Florida, along with seven others in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Rhode Island. Its taxpayer-funded contracts in Florida total $74 million, according to a federal lawsuit. And the abuse allegations keep stacking up.

In 2008, a former resident of a South Dakota Youth Services lockup filed a federal lawsuit alleging that a female guard repeatedly sexually assaulted him when he was 16. The guard confessed and was fired. Youth Services and the plaintiff agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.

Last year, Florida DJJ officials criticized a Youth Services facility in St. Augustine for complaints that were eerily similar to those later alleged at Thompson Academy. Staff at St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility and Youth Academy used excessive force on inmates, failed to properly supervise teenagers who were at risk for suicide, and didn't investigate a sexual assault complaint, according to a written DJJ evaluation. Supervisors were also allegedly "instructed to discourage or talk youth out of making complaints to the abuse registry."

Over time, Weekes, of the Broward Public Defender's Office, noticed that many of his juvenile clients who were being housed at Thompson Academy showed up for court hearings complaining about chipped teeth, deep gashes, and other injuries from fights. In 2008, he began writing letters urging Youth Services to investigate mistreatment and violence at Thompson Academy.

He worried that the guards were not supervising the inmates properly and might be using excessive force to break up fights. Four teenagers escaped from the facility in two months; 23 reports of child abuse were called in to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) that year. The lockup's head administrator was arrested for driving drunk and pleaded no contest to a DUI charge. Youth Services promised a thorough investigation of all the complaints. By 2010, Thompson had hired a new administrator, Craig Ferguson. But Weekes says the problems remained.

"The core of the program and the tone [of complaints] I was receiving from the children... nothing had changed."

Davie arrived at Thompson Academy last July. His mom didn't visit often; she'd just had a third baby and wasn't allowed to bring young children into the facility regularly. But on family visiting days, Davie complained bitterly about the lockup. The guards encouraged kids to fight and cursed at them, he told his mom. They were forced to throw away their food if they talked too much or didn't eat fast enough. She learned later, from the guards, that there were multiple fights a day.

During Davie's weekly phone calls home, he was forced to talk on speakerphone so the guards could hear the conversations. When Reggie brought her daughters to visit, one counselor screamed at her 14-year-old.

"I've seen how they talk to the kids. They use curse words like they were friends from the street," Reggie says.

Davie told his mom that Thompson Academy was so awful, he'd rather go back to the juvenile detention center or even the county jail.

"I can't take this, Mom, I can't," Reggie remembers him saying. "Get me out of here, Mom. I hate this place."

Reggie called Thompson Academy to complain about the treatment her son described. Employees said they would look into the problems, but nothing changed.

Meanwhile, other inmates' mothers — whom Reggie didn't know — were beginning to worry. Ms. Snow, who didn't want her first name published, complained from the first day that her 16-year-old son arrived at Thompson last May. "I was really distraught, brought to tears," she says.

Snow is a petite woman, immaculately dressed in jeans, with silver jewelry and tasteful lip gloss. She thought the academy was rundown, with piles of dirt on the floor and dust on the windows, visibly showing its age. She asked to see the classrooms but was not allowed. Her son reported that some of the dorm rooms had broken air-conditioning units during the swampy, hot summer months. He saw mold in the classrooms. Like Davie, he was constantly hungry, despite the small portions of pizza and pasta provided for Thompson by a local caterer. Snow says he grew three inches during his six-month incarceration but lost ten pounds.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

Hi,Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, ===== Here are the most

popular, most stylish and avant-garde

shoes,hand jacket,Tracksuit




New to Hong Kong : Winter Dress

--- NHL Jersey Woman $ 30 ---**** NFL Jersey $20--- NBA Jersey $ 18 ---**** MLB Jersey $ 30--- Jordan Six Ring_m $30 ---**** Air Yeezy_m $ 45--- T-Shirt_m $ 15 ---**** Jacket_m $ 30--- Hoody_m $ 30 ---**** Manicure Set $ 20as long as the new and old customers to buy the corresponding product on this site, both a gift, so stay tuned! !

Rhette Michaels
Rhette Michaels

Why doesn't the state put someone in undercover? It'd get to the bottom of the doubts faster than a dozen trips by "politickers". If the lawyers pretended enough to accept the case, they definitely ought to know what a order of protection is...that would get the offending parties away from the kids. Personally, I hate the thought of 'for profit' institutions. They've got NO incentive to get them out of the system while they're making a buck from them.


this stuff dates back to 2004(thompson academy). there exists info that clearly states that these issues and others were put in writing that are quite similar to what's in this report. the question to ask is/was DJJ in bed with the provider. there are people who know.