Death at Palm Beach Juvie Jail Came During "Severe Overcrowding" at State Lockups

Eric Perez's mother has been given many reasons why her 18-year-old son died ten days ago at a juvenile jail in West Palm Beach. He woke up one morning hallucinating, complaining of a headache, and vomiting. He may have had breathing problems, an enlarged heart, or a stroke, according to the Miami Herald. But staffers at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Center did not call 911 for help. One staffer alleges his supervisor told him not to call.

As authorities continue to investigate Perez's death, one thing is certain: Perez died at a time when some state-run juvenile lockups are overcrowded and less safe than usual, according to an official at a Broward jail.

On June 13, a month before Perez died, Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center

supervisor Daryl Wolf wrote an email to Gordon Weekes Jr., chief assistant public defender in Broward, outlining the problem. Wolf said an unknown number of teenagers were being transferred from Broward to Palm Beach and Miami lockups "due to severe overcrowding, creating a safety and security concern."

In early June, Weekes learned that girls at the Broward detention center were being forced to sleep on the floor of a multipurpose room so their dorm beds could be used for an influx of new male residents. "This is unacceptable and should never have been allowed to occur," Weekes wrote in a letter to state Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters.

Wolf fixed the sleeping situation but then told Weekes that teenagers would be transferred to other lockups -- such as the one where Perez died -- to ease overcrowding.

Thanks to state-mandated budget cuts, five juvenile jails in Florida were slated to be shut down this summer. While advocates for troubled teens heralded the closing of residential facilities in favor of more community-based programs, the transition has clearly been bumpy, with teenagers being shifted among crowded lockups.

"This is how they [officials at the state Department of Juvenile Justice] manage things. They don't plan; they just act without considering how the children within their care are impacted," Weekes says.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab