The state Department of Juvenile Justice does not have a stellar track record of competency or efficiency. When a prison guard was twice accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy at a Pembroke Pines juvie lockup, DJJ didn't hear about the incidents until months after they allegedly occurred. Next, supervisors at a juvenile jail in West Palm Beach allowed an 18-year-old inmate with head injuries to die slowly and painfully while guards refused to call 911.
Yes, when it comes to the abuse of troubled kids, it seems the state of Florida does little more than shrug. Want to understand why? Try asking DJJ to handle some paperwork.
Last month New Times made a public records request for information regarding Craig Ferguson, the former administrator of Thompson Academy, a for-profit juvenile lockup in Pembroke Pines. Former employees had accused Ferguson of serious creepiness. They alleged he took three male residents home with him, bought them clothes, and allowed them to shower at his house. I wanted to know what state officials found when they investigated Ferguson. A DJJ spokesman said the investigation was still open, so the paperwork was not available. Fine.
A week later, a spokesperson for the agency wrote to say she had additional information to provide about Ferguson -- 295 pages of reports from DJJ's Inspector General. Jackpot, I thought. Strange to have a government PR person offer me additional records, but I'll take what I can get.
New Times forked over $236 for the documents, an unusually large sum that DJJ said was necessary so that officials could redact the paperwork.
Then the documents failed to arrive.
I got a call from a producer at WPTV, the NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach. She had received my box of very expensive records from DJJ. Would I like them back?
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Turns out DJJ's worker bees took the time to carefully redact nearly 300 pages of documents, but not double-check the mailing address. Instead, they sent the coveted material to a competing news outlet.
When I called to complain, DJJ spokesperson Samadhi Jones was quick to apologize. "I will find out how this happened. Once again, I am very sorry for the delay," she wrote in an email.
It took five more days, but the package finally arrived. Then came the best surprise: Out of all those hundreds of pages, none of them addressed the allegations that Ferguson took kids home with him and let them shower. That investigation is still ongoing, the agency says. The stack of paperwork I received dealt with old allegations made by Thompson Academy residents two years ago, and investigated by New Times here.
But that's not DJJ's fault. No. They fulfilled my request for "any and all" documents about Ferguson. They just made certain not to provide any information that might be useful.