For nearly 20 years, a for-profit company called Youth Services International Inc. (YSI) has controlled multiple juvenile facilities in Florida. During that time, YSI workers have been accused of a slew of abuses, from slamming kids’ heads into walls to underfeeding them.
On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) announced the company is finally getting the boot. According to a DJJ press release, the state will terminate all services and transfer to new providers by August 31, 2016.
Contracts with individual detention centers have been terminated in the past couple of years, but there are still seven facilities under YSI’s jurisdiction. It is not clear where the juveniles in custody will go.
“Our focus and priority is to ensure that youth in our care are safe and that effective treatments are being provided in rehabilitative and nurturing environments,” DJJ Secretary Christina Daly said. “We will work to ensure that each of the seven programs operated by YSI are transitioned to new providers smoothly and that our high standards of transparency and accountability are met every step of the way.”
Daly explained that the decision to cut remaining ties with the company was largely informed by a former employee-turned-whistleblower. That person filed a lawsuit that claimed YSI neglected young people in its care and intentionally fabricated important documents to influence its state contracts.
But the DJJ has been aware of YSI’s abuse for many years. Allegations detailing exactly what goes on behind closed doors came out almost immediately after the company began its contract in 1997. Months after the company took over the Pahokee Youth Development Center, a county judge discovered “physical and psychological conditions (that) bordered upon child abuse.”
Over the years, those problems have persisted state-wide.
At the Thompson Academy, food was scarce and treated as currency to reward behavior. Bugs were discovered in the food. Staffers often sexually assaulted some of the teenagers, while victims’ complaints about sexual abuse were ignored. Clogged toilets were left untouched and young people were forced to clean floors instead of sleeping. Some wards were brutally beaten, and many were forced to terminate their lawyers.
At the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, which terminated its contact with YSI last year, one-third of the teenage boys in its care were sexually abused in detention. And employees at the Broward Academy for Girls withheld basic necessities, including food and sanitation items.
Despite all of the harrowing reports, a Huffington Post investigation of YSI noted that the company managed 10 percent of the state’s youth prison system — amounting to $100 million in contractual obligations. YSI largely benefited from owner James F. Slattery’s lobbying in state politics and other executives’ charitable donations to top GOP leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott (R).
While Florida’s state-run detention centers are also rife with problems, its private juvenile facilities are part of a national for-profit prison industry that’s known for inhumane treatment.
Private prison corporations, including the notorious GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), rake in money by requiring states to guarantee that they pay for 90 to 99 percent of the beds, which gives states the incentive to lock up more people. At the same time, the corporations try to minimize costs by under-funding and under-staffing their facilities, leading to poor management and little oversight. That concern for the company’s bottom line sets the stage for a wide range of abuses to occur.
Every year, the corporations spend millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers.