“The head of Florida's juvenile justice department defended her agency's oversight of private prison contractors before a state Senate panel on Wednesday amid allegations of violence and mistreatment inside the nation's third-largest juvenile corrections system.”
Having tracked this story for months, the self-serving statements, denials, and cover-ups of Wansley Walters, Secretary of Florida’s Division of Juvenile Justice, offends me to the core. The story begins with one James F. Slattery, the CEO of Youth Services International, a private, profit-driven prison enterprise that has run afoul of authorities in Florida, New York, Maryland, Nevada and Texas. Here are the facts in a nutshell, Private Prison Empire Rises Despite Record Of Juvenile Abuse and Lax Oversight Enables Systemic Abuse At Private Youth Prisons:
- Over 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states have been incarcerated in Slattery’s prisons, boot camps, and detention centers;
- An 18-year old inmate in one of Slattery’s boot camps came down with pneumonia and pleaded to see a doctor. Accused of faking it, the teen was forced to do pushups in his own vomit until he died - after nine days of medical neglect.
- A boy was forced to give oral sex to a male guard on three different occasions. First reported on March 2010, a Pembroke Pines police officer noted six months later: “This is the third time this victim has alleged sexual abuse.”
- Slattery’s company failed to disclose reports of beatings, broken noses and broken bones, extreme negligence, slapping and choking, unsanitary food (such as maggots in undercooked chicken served bloody and raw), and outright assaults against teen inmates;
- Slattery’s company had the highest rate of sexual assault in Florida and the highest rate in the nation;
- Slattery hires inexperienced and untrained personnel who are paid wages below the poverty level;
- Monitors from the state found that Slattery’s prisons were holding youth past their scheduled release dates in an effort to generate more revenue — a serious violation of Florida law and Slattery’s contract with the state;
- Slattery exploits lax oversight, pulls out of contracts BEFORE the state investigates alleged abuses, and leans on powerful allies within the government to keep contracts and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue flowing;
- Slattery has donated more than $276,000 to the Florida State Republican Party and paid more than $400,000 to state politicians, including Senate President Harry Haridopolos, an avid supporter of private prisons, who received $15,000.
A 2010 lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center referred to one of Slattery’s prisons as a “frightening and violent place” where: “Children are choked and slammed head first into concrete walls, their arms and fingers bent back and twisted to inflict pain for infractions as minor as failing to follow an order to stand up,” the lawsuit states. Slattery settled the lawsuit in 2011; the terms remain confidential.
“It’s everything that’s wrong with politics rolled up in a package,” said Evan Jenne, a former Florida state representative who toured one of Slattery’s facilities after public defenders raised concerns. “You’re talking about society failing children. It’s politically motivated, and it’s money-motivated.”
Florida has an especially notorious record of incarcerating youth under hellish conditions dating back to the turn of the century. In the early 1980s, lawyers with the ACLU investigated reports of horrendous conditions and mistreatment inside three “training schools” for juvenile delinquents. One institution on the Florida panhandle, The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, had gained a reputation for extreme brutality: Forensic anthropologists from the University of South Florida have identified an estimated 50 unmarked graves on the grounds of the closed facility.
In December 2011, the state closed Dozier, citing budget cuts. On January 4, 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott issued this reply to the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, stating:
“We respectfully, but firmly disagree with the unsupported suggestion that the issues identified … are systemic throughout the DJJ. The issues investigated by your office were confined to the closed facility, and do not constitute a sufficient, sound or fair basis for concluding that an entire state agency and its employees are failing to properly administer the juvenile justice system in Florida.
This officious denial from the felonious Governor Rick Scott mirrors the bogus claim of Wansley Walters, who states: "We are looking at every level of our system to make it a system that will be healthy for the children that we serve," she said.
If these abuses and self-serving denials - past, present, and ongoing - offend you, wait for Part Two of this post: State-Sanctioned Slave Labor in the Rotten State of Florida.