Crime

Minnesota Counties Stop Sending Kids to Youth Services International Juvie Lockup

For more than a year, New Times has been investigating Thompson Academy, a publicly funded, privately run juvenile detention center in Pembroke Pines where teens have alleged they faced physical and sexual abuse. Most recently, the lockup's top administrator, Craig Ferguson, left his post while under investigation by the state Department of Juvenile Justice. According to allegations made by former Thompson employees, last year Ferguson took three boys home with him, bought them clothes, and allowed them to shower at his house. New Times is currently wading through more than 200 pages of documents detailing the state's investigation of Ferguson.

Meanwhile, Youth Services International, the Sarasota-based prison company that runs Thompson, is facing additional scrutiny in Minnesota. Martin and Faribault counties,

communities about two hours south of Minneapolis, have stopped sending teenagers to Youth Services' Elmore Academy. The local public defender, prosecutor, and sheriff raised concerns that nonviolent offenders were being housed with more violent kids and that staffers were not properly qualified to help them.

"I don't think some of these people are qualified," public defender Bill Grogin told the Fairmont Sentinel. "I've heard some students say they were more fearful of staff members than they were of other students."

At Thompson Academy, fear is said to be rampant. In 2010, one staffer was accused of twice sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy, while another staffer was accused of slamming a 16-year-old into a wall and choking him. Pembroke Pines police officers declared the sexual assault allegations "unfounded" but also criticized Thompson Academy officials for not reporting the incidents until several months after they allegedly occurred.

Investigators from the state Department of Children and Families did not find merit to the allegation about a guard slamming a resident into a wall. A class-action lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against Thompson Academy was settled last year. Read New Times' cover story on Thompson Academy here.

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab