Wednesday, January 15, 2014

State-Sanctioned Child Abuse in the Rotten State of Florida

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.


  1. It's not just Florida. This is a wider problem:

    In Pennsylvania a young student got 3 months in detention for putting up a parody of a My Space page about a teacher:

    "Instead, the judge sentenced her to three months at a juvenile detention center on a charge of harassment.

    She was handcuffed and taken away as her stunned parents stood by.

    “I felt like I had been thrown into some surreal sort of nightmare,” said Hillary, 17, who was sentenced in 2007. “All I wanted to know was how this could be fair and why the judge would do such a thing.”

    The answers became a bit clearer on Thursday as the judge, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., and a colleague, Michael T. Conahan, appeared in federal court in Scranton, Pa., to plead guilty to wire fraud and income tax fraud for taking more than $2.6 million in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers run by PA Child Care and a sister company, Western PA Child Care.

    While prosecutors say that Judge Conahan, 56, secured contracts for the two centers to house juvenile offenders, Judge Ciavarella, 58, was the one who carried out the sentencing to keep the centers filled.

    “In my entire career, I’ve never heard of anything remotely approaching this."

    But more to your point, (O)CT(O)PUS is the fact that left to fester in an unregulated environment, these sorts of inhuman facilities for youngsters will be the rule, not the exception, wherever a state government embraces conservative "values."

    1. Wish that were the only such accusation against judges and prosecutors I've heard. My contempt for that SOB is so great I'd better shut up before I say more.

      But this system makes such abuse unavoidable

  2. Great post.

    But wait, there's more!

    There is or recently was a traveling slavery museum in Florida: a truck -- a replica of the one used to hold twelve Imokalee, Florida farmworkers captive from 2005 to 2007 under truly brutal conditions. It's not a unique case. Over a thousand enslaved "farm-workers" have been liberated by the DOJ in the last couple of decades in Florida, if the number isn't quite what it used to be, it's only because there are now machines to cut sugarcane that have made it less useful to import indentured Jamaicans for really nasty and dangerous work. By supporting Sugar prices ( to hurt that Commie in Cuba) we support slavery in America and we support conditions it would be criminal to inflict on a dog. Hey, as long as it's Capitalism it's better than socialism and that's pretty good, right?

    We Southerners have a long history of sheriffs charging people with vagrancy and then selling their chain gang labor to the highest bidder. There has always been a method of making sure that 30 days for being black and broke becomes a life sentence.

    Slavery is slavery even if you define it as "punishment" or custodial care of minors. That's why making a profit out of taking away someone's freedom is slavery and thus unconstitutional as well as disgusting. So the entire practice of handing some company a profit from punishing people seems morally offensive to me for many reasons. Using prison labor for private profit is just as bad. Doubly so when children are involved. Such companies have no incentive do do anything but maximize profit and if they want to do so by starving them, beating them, tormenting them, overworking them, denying medical care and humane conditions, substituting beatings and abuse for spending money for qualified personnel they will.

    Some things should be beyond private enterprise and prisons are one of them and any other products of the idea that profit is the test of good and bad should die a swift death. Capitalism offers efficiency. It does not offer morality or decency.

  3. "We Southerners have a long history of sheriffs charging people with vagrancy and then selling their chain gang labor to the highest bidder. There has always been a method of making sure that 30 days for being black and broke becomes a life sentence."

    Slavery By Another Name

  4. Use of private contractors has absolutely no justification in this venue. It is beyond insane for the state to contract out "correctional" functions to for-profit companies. The truth is, the state already has a horrid vested interest in considering a bunch of meth addicts and petty thieves as "valued customers" or clients (it's almost Dickensian how we run our prison system), but farming this kind of thing out to anyone who's out to profit from it can only make the problem even worse.

    1. It's a conflict of interest and we see the results of that, but the business of America is business and so our wars, our prisons need to show a profit, just like our drug policies. Those things employ lots of people who vote and use their wealth to create more wars, criminals, prisoners, enforcement, investigation. . . Tyranny is lucrative!

      I wonder how much it costs this rural county to have the sheriff fly around in a helicopter to see who's growing weed in the back yard. I don't wonder that he'd like to keep doing it and the guy who leases and maintains the 2 million dollar machine likes it too. Of course to avoid the public balking about the cost, we pay for it with civil forfeitures - cars, boats, homes, valuables, taken without due process and often only on suspicion. But hey, why get worked up - the Superbowl is coming, The Fox Circus is on the air. . . .


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