State Refuses Tour of Thompson Academy, the Juvenile Lockup Accused of Abuse

The state Department of Juvenile Justice has denied New Times' request to tour Thompson Academy, the detention center in Pembroke Pines where some teenagers have alleged they were physically and sexually abused.

Samadhi Jones, a spokesperson for DJJ, offered little explanation for the decision. She said law enforcement officials and the Department of Children and Families are investigating the abuse allegations, "So we're gonna let them do the investigation."

"This is the agency's decision," she added.

Thompson is funded entirely with public money. Its owner, the for-profit Youth Services International, has a three-year, $14.8 million contract to to run the non-secure,

"moderate risk" 154-bed facility. Boys living there range in age from 13 to 18, and have "generally committed serious property offenses," according to DJJ's website.

A recent federal lawsuit alleges the lockup is a violent, unsanitary place. Some children lived in rooms with mold and broken air conditioning units, and received so little food that they lost "substantial amounts of weight," the suit says.

One 16-year-old alleges a counselor choked him, dragged him down the hall and slammed his head against a metal door. Another 15-year-old says he was twice sexually assaulted by a male counselor.

Yet DJJ officials, in their most recent annual review of Thompson, gave the facility a "commendable performance" grade, meaning it has an overall rating of 80 percent or higher.

Craig Ferguson, Thompson's administrator, has not responded to interview requests.

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