Lease could keep kids’ lockup here, despite criticism of conditions

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility

Severing the Department of Juvenile Justice’s lease for a kid’s lockup here may be easier said than done.

Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana would like nothing better than to see DJJ and the private company it hired to run a juvenile detention center just west of the Fairgrounds close up and go home.

Vana, wetter than a mad hen over conditions at the juvie jail, this week told County Administrator Bob Weisman to look for a way out of its contract with the state agency.

It’s the county’s land that the Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility sits on. DJJ leases it for $1 a year.

Weisman took a first look at the 1990s-era lease and wrote to the legal department that, “It seems to say that we cannot terminate the lease unless the termination is in accordance with law, but yet it doesn’t seem to provide a way that it could be in accordance with law, but then it says that if a court rules the termination was illegal, that we will pay DJJ for the value of the facility.”

“Makes no sense to me.”

Meanwhile, DJJ has scrambled to keep up with criticism of the vendor actually running the show: Sarasota-based Youth Services International.

The state agency stepped up monitoring and it appears the teenagers will get milk or juice with a snack, not water. YSI ordered parts for broken plumbing and at least some kids got new shoes and socks.

Then, last month, in an out-of-left-field move, DJJ asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review what was going on at the facility, which holds 118 teenage boys, most of them in pretty serious trouble with the law.

YSI has been dogged by allegations of maltreatment for years. Critics cite a string of scandals linked to the company and its predecessor, including the 1999 collapse of a juvenile jail contract in Pahokee. And for years, company officials have insisted any bad employees have been fired and reforms adopted.

The problems just keep coming, though. Things seemed to come to a head last year, when a Florida Senate subcommittee on criminal justice agreed to hear testimony about a troubled YSI-run Broward center and DJJ canceled a contract with YSI for another center in North Florida.

But even as the troubles mount, so do the deals: According to DJJ records, YSI still holds more than $100 million in contracts to run Florida juvenile facilities.

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