Citing several reports that say a high percentage of boys being sexually abused at the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, the ACLU of Florida is calling on Christina Daly, the secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to shut down the facility.
The ACLU calls the Palm Beach facility the worst in Florida, with the highest rate of sexual abuse being reported. The group also points out how the the DJJ had recently asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDEL) to investigate the facility.
The facility, which is built to hold 110 boys between the ages of 13 to 18, is owned and operated by Youth Services International — a for-profit detention center operator that has faced allegations of physical and sexual abuse from inmates for years.
In 2002 the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that more than 32 percent of the boys locked at the facility reported to having been abused,
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the FDLE wrote a letter to Youth Services in 2004 that mentioned four staffers at the Santa Rosa facility had been fired for excessive use of force and for failure to act on security concerns.
In June of this month, three boys were injured at the facility, with one having to be hospitalized with a broken jaw.
Overall, as New Times pointed out in February, the state has a reputation for being overly stringent with youth offenders, due mainly to a Direct File law that allows prosecutors to charge juveniles as adults whenever they want.
Last month, Daly wrote a two-page letter to Palm Beach commissioners assuring them that the conditions at the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility are safe. This after Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana expressed a desire to see the county break its lease with DJJ and move on from Youth Services.
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In her letter, Daly noted that DJJ asked for an independent review of the facility, and also mentioned an unannounced visit by the Inspector General and the Bureau of Inspections. She also noted how staffers were being assessed in their duties, and training in use-of-force.
I can assure you this department does not tolerate conduct or an environment that puts youth at risk,” part of the letter read.
In their to Daly, the ACLU is calling on the secretary to sever DJJ‘s contract with Youth Services International to and close the facility:
Dear Secretary Daly:
We, the undersigned, urge you to immediately cancel the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)‘s contract with Youth Services International (YSI) and close the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility. As was the case with YSI’s Santa Rosa facility, there is documentation that the company has failed to address safety and security problems at the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility.
In addition to a track record of abuse, the Palm Beach facility does a poor job in rehabilitating youth in its care, which stems from YSI’s fundamentally corrupt business model. The company consistently seeks to maximize profits – by cutting staff, training and programming costs – which undermines DJJ’s goal of rehabilitation.
The majority of youth confined in Palm Beach suffer from mental health or substance abuse issues. Rather than incarcerating young people in large, prison-like facilities like the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, DJJ should place young people in community-based programs and small, therapeutic settings that have proven to be more successful in rehabilitation than large juvenile correction facilities. These programs are much more effective in helping young people turn their lives around and in promoting public safety.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Meanwhile, Youth Services International, which has been a big donor to key Florida GOP lawmakers, is looking to regain its right to bid on future Department of Juvenile Justice contracts.