A for-profit Sarasota company, Youth Services International, has a $14.8 million, three-year state contract to operate the facility. Youth Services President James Slattery has been running private prisons for nearly 20 years. And despite corporate name changes, mergers, and moves, his companies have been haunted by scandals.

He began by renting decrepit hotel rooms to homeless families in New York. Then he helped found Esmor Correctional Services, which ran halfway houses and prisons in several states. In 1995, Immigration and Naturalization Services detainees at one of Esmor's New Jersey prisons rioted over disgusting living conditions and abuse — including allegations that the guards beat them and shoved their heads in toilet bowls. Embarrassed by the national scandal, the company moved its headquarters to Sarasota. Within months, Esmor, with Slattery as president, had signed contracts to run two juvenile detention centers in Florida and switched its name to Correctional Services Corp.

But the bad headlines continued. In 1998, state officials found that guards at the company's Pahokee prison were physically abusing kids and holding them beyond their release dates to collect extra money. The state canceled Correctional Services' contract. Yet the company survived and merged with another firm that ran juvenile lockups. In 2005, with Slattery at the helm, Youth Services International broke away from Correctional Services and became an independent business, focused on juvenile detention.

Youth Services now operates eight juvenile lockups in Florida, along with seven others in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Rhode Island. Its taxpayer-funded contracts in Florida total $74 million, according to a federal lawsuit. And the abuse allegations keep stacking up.

In 2008, a former resident of a South Dakota Youth Services lockup filed a federal lawsuit alleging that a female guard repeatedly sexually assaulted him when he was 16. The guard confessed and was fired. Youth Services and the plaintiff agreed to dismiss the lawsuit.

Last year, Florida DJJ officials criticized a Youth Services facility in St. Augustine for complaints that were eerily similar to those later alleged at Thompson Academy. Staff at St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility and Youth Academy used excessive force on inmates, failed to properly supervise teenagers who were at risk for suicide, and didn't investigate a sexual assault complaint, according to a written DJJ evaluation. Supervisors were also allegedly "instructed to discourage or talk youth out of making complaints to the abuse registry."

Over time, Weekes, of the Broward Public Defender's Office, noticed that many of his juvenile clients who were being housed at Thompson Academy showed up for court hearings complaining about chipped teeth, deep gashes, and other injuries from fights. In 2008, he began writing letters urging Youth Services to investigate mistreatment and violence at Thompson Academy.

He worried that the guards were not supervising the inmates properly and might be using excessive force to break up fights. Four teenagers escaped from the facility in two months; 23 reports of child abuse were called in to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) that year. The lockup's head administrator was arrested for driving drunk and pleaded no contest to a DUI charge. Youth Services promised a thorough investigation of all the complaints. By 2010, Thompson had hired a new administrator, Craig Ferguson. But Weekes says the problems remained.

"The core of the program and the tone [of complaints] I was receiving from the children... nothing had changed."

Davie arrived at Thompson Academy last July. His mom didn't visit often; she'd just had a third baby and wasn't allowed to bring young children into the facility regularly. But on family visiting days, Davie complained bitterly about the lockup. The guards encouraged kids to fight and cursed at them, he told his mom. They were forced to throw away their food if they talked too much or didn't eat fast enough. She learned later, from the guards, that there were multiple fights a day.

During Davie's weekly phone calls home, he was forced to talk on speaker phone so the guards could hear the conversations. When Reggie brought her daughters to visit, one counselor screamed at her 14-year-old.

"I've seen how they talk to the kids. They use curse words like they were friends from the street," Reggie says.

Davie told his mom that Thompson Academy was so awful he'd rather go back to the juvenile detention center or even the county jail.

"I can't take this, Mom, I can't," Reggie remembers him saying. "Get me out of here, Mom. I hate this place."

Reggie called Thompson Academy to complain about the treatment her son described. Employees said they would look into the problems, but nothing changed.

Meanwhile, other inmates' mothers — whom Reggie didn't know — were beginning to worry. Ms. Snow, who didn't want her first name published, complained from the first day her 16-year-old son arrived at Thompson last May. "I was really distraught, brought to tears," she says.

Snow is a petite woman, immaculately dressed in jeans, with silver jewelry and tasteful lip gloss. She thought the academy was rundown, with piles of dirt on the floor and dust on the windows, visibly showing its age. She asked to see the classrooms but was not allowed. Her son reported that some of the dorm rooms had broken air-conditioning units during the swampy, hot summer months. He saw mold in the classrooms. Like Davie, he was constantly hungry, despite the small portions of pizza and pasta provided for Thompson by a local caterer. Snow says he grew three inches during his six-month incarceration but lost ten pounds.

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38 comments
Snatchaobeast
Snatchaobeast

Davie is now locked up for attempted murder. Not the angel mom was trying to make it seem he was

PressEnter
PressEnter

Corrupt parents create corrupt children. Then they try to fix them using the corrupt prison system. I could laugh all day at the folly of man.

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jdo
jdo

If the kids are monsters, who made them that way? They certainly weren't born being disrespectful, rude, and unable to act appropriately in civilized society. I find it amazing that the same kid who is "the devil" and causes their parents/guardians soooo much trouble, the same kid who the police view as a threat, becomes relatively well behaved within a week of being in detention and having a strict set of rules and expectations that are consistently enforced. (mind you, this is not ALL children, but a large number of them. Some kids are lost long before they reach detention and unfortunately, you can see immediately that they will be spending most of their adult life in prison.) The same kid who calls the staff "Ma'am" and "Sir" will be on the phone with their parents demanding this and that, and cursing at them like it's their homeboy. I am 32 years old and would not speak my mother in a rude tone. Why? Because she'd still beat my a$$ if I did; and she raised me not to be rude to one's elders. So who is to blame for these kids' behaviors? The only thing the government has taken away is the right to beat the crap out of your kids. Gee, what a pity. (that's sarcasm, in case you didn't notice.)You can still spank them; you can still discipline them; you can still raise them with some self respect and pride; you can still teach them to act like a civilized human being; you can teach them that prison culture and the thug life is NOT going to make you a million dollar rap star; you can teach them how to read, help them with their homework, NOT expect the teachers to give your kids morals, a conscience, and a basic education too; you can still raise your child to become a responsible adult, who doesn't assume that money comes from a welfare check and a job is a useless thing because the government will pay you for popping out babies from the age of 13. You can teach your child how to behave; rather than just drugging them with a handful of psychotropic drugs every day so they sit still in class. You can pay attention to your child, so that instead of coming to detention where they know there will be staff and mental health professionals all around to talk to them at all times of day; they can go to YOU and YOU can help them work through their teenage issues.

Lainternauta62
Lainternauta62

This news has been around for a week on yahoo...I believe we get the idea. Even so there are parents and law officials that are abusive I have to add that these "kids" are abusive to EVERYONE. They are not children, THEY ARE MONSTERS. They should have a HOTLINE for parents that are abused from their children,not the other way around. We have given our children TOO MUCH FREEDOM. This is why they have gone crazy. We have created irresponsible,disrespectful children,who later in life will be a burden to our society. Goverment has taken the away from parents the priviledge and the constitutional right to raise our children with moral standards. GOVERMENT SHOULD STAY OUT ON HOW WE CHOOSE TO RAISE OUR CHILDREN. TOO MUCH FREEDOM EQUALS TO THIS MESS. SAD!!! And is only going to get worse.

BIGROB305
BIGROB305

These kids were no angels but those guards and administration staff are the devil and violated their civil rights, it will be a blessing if they are put in in jail themselves and get the same treatment they did. As far as sending Davie back? Yeah he should go back only if he's allowed to bring an AK 47! That boy will get killed in there, then they'll use the oh he committed suicide excuse!

jdo
jdo

I am a Juvenile Detention Officer who has worked with at risk youth for 8 years. While there are bad people in state run facilities, it seems there are a LOT more issues in the private run facilities. IMO, this is because of the lack of training. I have had kids in detention beg to stay, try to refuse to go home, and way too many children have told me that I treat them better then their parents do; or they get treated better in detention than at home. I'm the "police" but by the end of 21 days I have kids calling me (and many of my fellow officers) "Mom" "Dad" or "Auntie" and "Uncle" or "Brother"; as in; "Ms, you are my DJJ Mom!!!" or "Momma, I mean, Miss, ..." What they don't teach you in training (and you cannot possibly expect out of a 21yo officer dealing with 18yo kids) is that your job is to be a role model, a counselor, a mentor, a voice of reason, an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on. Our job is to be surrogate parents to youth who are incarcerated; not to baby them, but to help them learn accountability and self respect. Physical violence isn't going to teach a kid anything; but sometimes you have to stop a kid from being violent and physical force is the only way to do that.

Unfortunately, most of the kids in the system are there because of the parents. (I know there will be tons of people who get mad at that statement). When parents are doing drugs, incarcerated, and living the "thug lives", what do they expect their kids to do, but follow in the footsteps and emulate what they see. Just because the parent decides to "change their lives" when the kid is 5 or 10, doesn't mean that the child is going to grasp the changes and follow along... they are already damaged by what they saw and experienced for those first years.

Also unfortunately, SOME (not all or even many) officers (Cops, Correction, Detention) work those fields because they are trying to compensate for something; being picked on as kids, or maybe they just like being the bully. "Trying to get their lunch money back", so to speak. Unless there is better training, better screening of new officers, and proportionally better pay, incidents like what happened at Thompson Academy will continue. I cannot count the number of times abuse reports get called in (and subsequently rejected) because a staff over hears a kid talking about how they have a B/F or G/F staff member at the program they are at, and how they sneak and do "things". Abuse rejects the claims because the kids deny it when asked by authority; and no staff member will admit to a crime. DCF and DJJ are in terrible shape; the state needs to make MASSIVE changes to both systems before our kids stop being brutalized and murdered. However, change costs money; and the state would rather save save save by privatizing (so they are no longer responsible).

I don't have any answers. I'm just going to keep on being the best role model and officer I can be, while I keep praying for the families and children who are suffering.

still crying
still crying

I feel for the family.When my son was killed, (he was a minority) 355 DAYS later, I was called, the police was stopping the investigation.Last I checked 355 days do not even make up a whole year. On the news I watch, they search for other perps, for YEARS.Is this the justice we can expect?

Mjjfamily
Mjjfamily

if the state would give parents back control of the children alot of this could be avoided. i was raised in the 60"s and 70's when parents were allowed to spank(not abuse) children. and i was to afraid to do something wrong because i didnt want my parents to spank me and the neighbors helped look out for us to keep us out of trouble. but noe we have to many children having and raising children

JOHNNY BRAVO
JOHNNY BRAVO

hell i used to be corrections officer and believe me when you work with kids it;s all trouble cause if you hit them back it's abuse,everything you do is wrong,,but don't get me wrong the staff also sucks,,they bring in drugs,,there out number and under pay...i say throw them into the lion's den...that way the inmates got something to think about before they do something wrong inside the prison

Slag
Slag

it's the mother's fault for not raising her child properly

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fools
fools

the police are scared of the kids.and look the other way alot of times.like dog eat dog.

Spanky
Spanky

Although thats true...a lot of the times the guards/staff members are bigger thugs than the inmates....

bigriggs
bigriggs

Am I supposed to feel sorry for this family that obviously has no idea how to make smart decisions?

Spanky
Spanky

Go play with GoldenGirl....

Richard McDorman
Richard McDorman

Yes, you are. Some day you will need someone to feel sorry for you too.

bigriggs
bigriggs

Perhaps, but not because of stupid horrible decisions I have made. I feel no sympathy for this family.

Florida Goldengirl
Florida Goldengirl

I forgot to ask . Are they all black ? What is the racial % of the population of Thompson Academy ? Doesn't somebody get the real picture by now ?

Maximarpg
Maximarpg

maybe you should go play in traffic...just sayin...

Fulano33126
Fulano33126

great comment for an insurgent, How is it going in RACIAL PROFILING HAVEN.Have you gotten to the section of WHITE mass murderors, Im sure you have plenty to talk to them about,

Florida Goldengirl
Florida Goldengirl

These kids are a bunch of punks and hoodlums, or they wouldn't be there. What so they expect ? This facility is for punks and hoodlums not for potential Harvard grads, and maybe if it's bad enough, the punks and hoodlums will get the message that they don't want to be in a prison of any kind, maybe they will start to respect their families and the laws of our land, instead of being worthless punks and hoodlums. I have no sympathy for them. If it were up to me, I'd have them all at hard labor and use a whip. That should have been done also to the mothers who kept popping these kids out into the kind of life that virtually guarantees the kind of life they are living. These low-lives need to be removed permanently from society and their mothers need to Stop Having More Kids.

gokillyourself
gokillyourself

Wow...you really must be a "goldengirl" because you sound like an old school Florida redneck who is hiding her Klan sheet because the world has passed her 85 year old mentality by (and I'm white by the way). Some kids may get into adult trouble early in life, but it doesn't mean they aren't redeemable and it certainly doesn't excuse a male "counselor" from forcing his penis into a juvenile's mouth...TWICE. Please, go change you depends and iron your hood because functioning members of society would like to have a smart conversation.

ivxx
ivxx

golden girl my ass.... these are still kids dummy. just by looking at ur comments i can see ur the type to judge first and ask questions later...

"Are they all black?" why does it matter, didn't u read the article where it mentioned a hispanic child who couldn't communicate since the only one fluent in spanish was a psychiatrist.

or maybe their being black would've justified their treatment right...?

stop pretending to be a tolerant person and just be the racist u are... then at least we could respect u for being honest...

Fulano33126
Fulano33126

It is easy to speak, when you have not walked in those shoes.It is still amazing that at this day and age. " he who has a glass ceiling continues to throw rocks' Many of these young man come from very well upbringings, but some how choose the wrong path,because to them its the easies way to go.If us as adults make an effort to help these young man, that you so eloquently call 'Hoodlooms" and show them that be it black, brown,yellow, pink or WHITE YES WHITE, AND SHOW THEM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN, they would be happy to learn, knowing that someone cares.You sound kind of young and should be the first one stepping up to the plate.Keep a good EYE on your brothers, sisters, cousing for they too can fall.When they do,what are you and your family going to do, disown them, and turn your back on them, is that the love that you received and the set structure that your parents taught you.If it is maybe you want to rethink what you make comments on before looking foolish.

Knock1Knock1
Knock1Knock1

I told my 15 year to come and read this, cause he had been giving me a lot of problems latley. I hate it for these children if this really happen to them, but maybe they will care their butts homes and behave & respect their parents now. I have three sons, and I always told them, if you can't listen to me, there is someone behind bars you don't want to meet, that you will have to listen too.

Spanky
Spanky

Unfortunately......for a lot of people...(myself included)....sometimes the only way to learn is the hard way....its good to expose kids to the realities of life and the consequences of certain behaviors....kids dont ever think it could happen to them....no matter what path they take or how ever many bumps in the road they may run into....dont lose faith in them...they might not admit it but it's the parent's faith thats gets them through...

..take it from a troubled youth that made it

Fulano33216
Fulano33216

Want to get then scared straight without much of a problem, ask the Department of Corrections to give them a tour of their facilities. If that does not do it, then there might be a problem. The program is called "Jail is Hell" Ask at Headquarters they would love to help you out.Our kids now a days leave in a fantasy world, they just need to be re-awaken.

Zhenglish29
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Jstacy1999
Jstacy1999

I bet if they looked a little further they would find the judges taking kickbacks just like in other states where they privitize services. Always follow the money

King Ralph
King Ralph

This piece was written 2 days from now. Today is Tuesday April 5th, Back to the future.

Deeznuts
Deeznuts

miami new times is the hoodrat of miami newspapers

Matthew Earl
Matthew Earl

Really? Care to chime in on some other "hoodrat" newspapers? Be specific when you post ridiculous things.

Deeznuts
Deeznuts

Miami new times writes about strip clubs, graffiti artists, detention centers... entertaining, can't lie... much like a hood rat

ivxx
ivxx

all those things u mentioned are big topics in miami...

i also love the irony in the usage of "deez" in ur name while calling someone out for being a hood rat...

 

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