Ever wonder why Florida has outsourced the care of hundreds of troubled kids to private companies? Yesterday, we reported that prison operator Youth Services International donated $88,000 to Florida politicians in the past five years. The Sarasota company's donations have greased the wheels for roughly $82 million in taxpayer-funded contracts to run eight juvenile lockups -- including the scandal-ridden Thompson Academy in Pembroke Pines.
A big chunk of the company's campaign dough went to influential Republican politicians, including state Senate President Mike Haridopolos and
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. Meanwhile, Youth Services has covered its
bases by hiring ten lobbyists to represent the company in Tallahassee.
Some perspective: That's the same number of lobbyists as a competing prison operator, G4S Youth Services LLC. But it's one more lobbyist than the Broward County School Board has and eight more than the Palm Beach County school district. Apparently prisons need more lobbyists than the people charged with educating our children.
New Times has been reporting on Youth Services International and Thompson Academy for nearly two years. James Slattery, CEO of Youth Services, has a history of prison scandals stretching back 20 years. Get an overview of his track record here.
In 2010, a 14-year-old boy alleged he was twice sexually assaulted by a counselor at Thompson Academy. Read our feature story about that case and other allegations of physical abuse at the Pembroke Pines lockup here.
Pembroke Pines police investigators declared the sexual-assault allegations "unfounded." In court documents, lawyers for Thompson Academy argued the alleged sexual encounters between the 14-year-old boy and a 23-year-old male counselor, if they occurred, were consensual. In May 2011, the federal class-action lawsuit stemming from the abuse allegations was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Most recently, the administrator of Thompson Academy left his post amid allegations that he took three teenaged boys home with him and allowed them to shower at his house. The state Department of Juvenile Justice is still investigating those allegations.