“Dickensian” conjures up the brutal life of London’s 19th century poor and incarcerated, but substitute sunshine for heavy fog and it’s an apt description for the 21st century juvenile justice system in Florida.
That’s what the Miami Herald uncovered in a recent series on the state’s juvenile correctional facilities, exposing the physical, mental and sometimes sexual abuse of young offenders by those who are supposed to protect them.
Maggots in the Food, Threadbare Clothing
Teens placed in these facilities reported finding maggots in their meals. Even pest-free food was barely adequate. Clothing was thin and dirty, and lice were rampant. The inmates lacked the necessities, including socks, toothpaste, soap and deodorant.
Little medical care was available, the plumbing was in disrepair and the buildings were barely maintained. Having guards punch and abuse them was part of the scene. Some inmates received favors for beating up others. And then there was the fighting …
The Florida Juvenile Facilities’ Fight Clubs
Guards at Florida juvenile facilities were notorious for instigating “fight clubs” among the inmates. They would bet on the matches.
In a West Palm Beach facility run by Youth Services International, two guards allegedly turned a supply closet into a mixed martial arts cage, and unknowing boys were led into it to face severe beatings. Even better – there’s plenty of video of these fights – a lovely bit of conduct promulgated, or at least condoned or overlooked, by Youth Services International.
Nothing like participating in an illegal activity and having it recorded by the facility’s cameras.
In many instances, however, guards or the inmates moved surveillance cameras so there was no record of the incidents. The youth were encouraged to fight with promises of candy, cookies and other treats.
While most of the fighting took place for “entertainment” purposes, some guards enlisted juveniles to serve as “backup security” in a facility where turf and other wars were commonplace.
Facial Surgery Required for Battered Youth
One young inmate was so badly beaten during one of these fights that he required surgery to correct the battering his face had suffered. That inmate got off easily. In August, 2015, a 17- year old inmate at the Miami-Dade Regional died from his injuries two days later.
Although his death was ruled a homicide, no charges were filed.
Later, juveniles involved stated a guard had “instigated” the fight, with food and phone calls provided as rewards.
For the most part, teens seriously injured during these fights were warned by guards to lie about the circumstances to medical personnel. For the most part, healthcare providers treating wounds appearing to result from assault didn’t ask the victims many questions.
Poorly Trained, Low-Paid Workers
The guards at these juvenile detention facilities earned starting salaries of between $19-25,000 per year. Those are the state workers – contract workers may earn as little as $9.50 per hour.
Some of these guards had criminal backgrounds of their own, which should have disqualified them from employment, but in this insane landscape, didn’t.
One guard later investigated for his role in these fight clubs had previously been arrested for beating a disabled man he was hired to protect while working in a group home.
Another had been arrested 11 times before being hired as a youth supervisor, with charges ranging from domestic violence, aggravated battery, resisting an officer and child neglect. This guard beat the juveniles under his care with a broomstick.
Some guards formerly worked at adult correctional facilities, where pay is better. However, they didn’t leave their previous jobs of their own volition. Most were forced out, often due to sexual harassment or other serious complaints.
The juvenile justice system took them in, as well as the private contractors hired to provide services.
Better Education, Higher Pay
What might turn this culture of abusive guards around?
Better pay would attract more qualified individuals, but even more important is education. Many states require college degrees for this type of work, and they aren’t having the same juvenile facility employee issues as Florida.
A bachelor’s degree and higher salary may attract applicants truly looking for a career in the juvenile justice system, rather than those simply seeking a job. Those more invested in their careers may decide to pursue a master’s degree and move up the career path.
The Bottom Line
Ideally, juveniles spending time in correctional facilities are supposed to be rehabilitated. Of course, that doesn’t always happen, but in Florida such facilities are Dickensian crime schools.
Young people subjected to the type of treatment outlined by the Miami Herald are more likely to become adult offenders and less likely to have successful educational or employment histories.
Florida has already lowered the number of juveniles sent to such facilities in favor of probation and community-based training programs. The state needs to do far more to prevent the atmosphere revealed by the Miami Herald’s articles from happening again.
If you or a young family member are an injured victim of Florida’s dark and archaic juvenile justice system and/or Youth Services International; we want to hear from you. We’re working on a number of investigations and you can help stop the abuse and perhaps win substantial compensation.
We are experienced and aggressive jail death and injury lawyers and are pleased to discuss your circumstance in a no-cost legal consult. National law firm; local legal talent. Call Now 866.836.4684 or CONNECT ONLINE