After years of criticism, YSI is out of Florida’s juvvie justice system

For years, Youth Services International has fended off allegations of substandard care of the juvenile offenders it houses for Florida, and for years, Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice has continued to award the Sarasota company lucrative contracts and defend its practices.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana, a fierce critic of YSI
Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana, a fierce critic of YSI.

Until now.

YSI is out as of August 31.

DJJ Secretary Christina Daly said in a written statement issued late Wednesday afternoon that the decision was set in motion by a former YSI employee who sued the company, alleging it faked documents key to its lucrative state contracts and failed to provide services to juveniles in its care.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office became involved, said Daly, and the resulting mediated settlement requires YSI to relinquish its contracts to run seven DJJ facilities — and reimburse the state for unspecified financial losses.

“While YSI believes there is no merit to this lawsuit, it made the decision to settle the case in an effort to put the four year litigation in the past and avoid the future cost and distraction of a continued legal defense,” said a company spokesman in a statement.

Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility, which YSI ran for years.
Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility, which YSI ran for years.

“To know that they are not going to be in the state anymore is absolutely marvelous,” said Palm Beach County commissioner Shelley Vana. Vana’s high-profile criticism of how YSI ran the troubled Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility focused Tallahassee’s attention on the firm.

And this from Broward County public defender Gordon Weekes, who represents youthful offenders and has a laundry list of issues with the firm: “It’s about time.”

Last August, YSI opted out of its multimillion-dollar state contract to

run the Palm Beach center for teenage boys after a surprise inspection by Vana found several teenagers with shoes that were falling apart. Some toilets weren’t working. Teens said they were hungry.

Further, in the previous eight months before her visit, two staffers were charged with child neglect after arranging a brutal fight between teenagers. One of the teens sustained a “possible fractured eye socket and a fractured nose,” according to investigators.

DJJ requested an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Even so, the agency largely defended its long-time contractor.

Yet the company has found itself under fire since 1997, when DJJ awarded Correctional Services Corp. — which later became YSI — its very first contract, to run the 350-bed Pahokee Youth Development Center in rural Palm Beach County.

Just months later, Dade County Circuit Judge Thomas Petersen reported “physical and psychological conditions (that) bordered upon child abuse” at the facility.

The company flatly denied Petersen’s findings. Months before the $30 million contract was set to expire, however, and one week before a slated Palm Beach County court hearing on conditions at the center, the company dropped the Pahokee contract.

It was, said state officials, a mutual decision. But not long after that, YSI picked up more state contracts to house and treat juveniles for the state, including the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility deal, and has been racking up contracts ever since.

In June 2013, just as the Dept. of Justice published its findings that the rate of youth-reported sex abuse at the Palm Beach facility was triple 2012’s statewide average, Florida signed off on contracts with YSI valued at $17.7 million. In October of that year, when Pembroke Pines police were investigating two YSI staff members accused of assaulting teens in their care, Florida and YSI inked an $11.7 million contract. And the company got a $29 million contract even as it was fending off a suit alleging civil rights violations at Thompson Academy in Broward County.

YSI will be out of the business of caring for Florida juvenile offenders as of August 31, said Daly, when new operators are expected to be phased in. Just who that will be isn’t yet known.

Construction update at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor was in the area Wednesday, so she stopped by to check on the construction work at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor visited the construction site Wednesday of the new West Palm Beach spring training complex. The $144 million project is in her district.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor visited the construction site Wednesday of the new West Palm Beach spring training complex. The $144 million project is in her district.

Wearing high heels, Taylor stepped gingerly on a patch of broken concrete and looked east through a haze of dirt kicked up by bulldozers and construction equipment rolling by.

She liked what she saw in the distance – red cranes at the spot of home plate, a concrete wall in right field and rebar-studded concrete in the spot of the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse.

“They are really making progress. I think it’s going to happen,’’ she said, referring to the January 2017 deadline to complete the $144 million complex south of 45th Street.

“The progress they’ve made make me think it’ll be done by December.’’

The visit was the third by Taylor since construction started in November; the site is in her district. The Nationals and Houston Astros face a tight deadline with little margin for error.

When Taylor and the rest of her colleagues on the County Commission gave final approval to the project last fall, they demanded assurances from the team that the work would be done on time.

Home plate is to the left of the red crane. On the right, workers sit on what will be the Washington Nationals clubhouse.
Home plate is to the left of the red crane. On the right, workers sit on what will be the Washington Nationals clubhouse.

There were plenty of signs of progress during a brief tour Taylor took with two reporters.

South of where she stood, the crews met a milestone Wednesday when they started carving out the first of six Nationals practice fields. The fields will be built in counterclockwise direction, ending with the six Astros practice fields in the north end of the 160-acre site.

And just east of 12-acre lake, all of the trash mounds have been removed from the Nationals’ side. Some trash mounds were transferred to the north end of the site, on the Astros’ side, but they will be carted off to the county landfill later this spring.

Workers on a wall of the Washington Nationals clubhouse
Workers on a wall of the Washington Nationals clubhouse

The teams also are about to pour concrete for the slabs at the base of the grand staircase at the main entrance on the west side of the stadium.

Concrete will be poured at the Astros clubhouse in three weeks. Slabs for the Nationals club house were pored Dec. 28.

By the end of April, structural steel will start to rise at the main stadium.
“We are not behind no any of the critical dates,’’ said Giles Kibbe, general counsel for the Astros.

The Nationals are finishing up their final spring in Viera while the Astros are finishing up their final spring in Kissimmee.

Their main challenges over the next 10 months is weather in West Palm Beach. Significant rain storms or even a hurricane this summer could jeopardize the construction schedule.

“We have a great relationship with Kissimmee,’’ Kibbe said.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor
Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor

“We fully intend to be in West Palm Beach in January. But if something changes, I’m sure we’d be able to sit down with them and talk about (an extension) but that’s not necessary at this time.’’

Taylor said she was thrilled to have visited the site without any damage to her car.

“The last time I was here,” she said, “I had two flat tires.”

Here’s how business makes money off the state’s mentally ill and sex offenders

Familiar names, familiar problems.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership

As the public rethinks harsh mandatory sentences swelling prison populations, a GEO Group offshoot and other private prison firms are focusing on another cash-for-inmates opportunity: privatization of state mental health hospitals and civil commitment centers, particularly in Florida and Texas.

Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based criminal justice advocacy group, is taking aim at this “net-widening,”especially in Florida and Texas,  with a report released Wednesday.

It’s a perfect profit center, the report’s authors said, because unlike traditional prisoners, terms of confinement can leave people there indefinitely.

Some aren’t going to make it out alive, such as the mental patient who died in a scalding bathtub in South Florida State Hospital, the tissue on his face “sloughing” off, as The Post reported in 2013

As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.
As problems have surfaced at GEO-run facilities, protests have grown.

Last month, another man died in  the state’s privately run 198-bed Treasure Coast Forensic Treatment Center. He had reportedly been punched by another inmate.

If Grassroots’ criticism of mental health and civil commitment centers seem familiar, so does the company involved. Boca Raton-based GEO Group spun off its medical unit a few years back; the spinoff became part of Correct Care Solutions LLC. A former GEO executive became  president and CEO of Correct Care.

Correct Care is running three of Florida’s troubled state mental hospitals, part of the state system blasted in a recent Tampa Bay Times/ Sarasota Herald Tribune investigation. It also runs Florida’s civil commitment center housing sex offenders.

That’s of particular concern, given GEO’s track record of treating inmates, exposed in a Palm Beach Post series.

On the other hand, not everyone is worried about Correct Care. Late last year, the company announced its work at the state’s South Florida State Hospital and South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center was recognized for meeting key quality benchmarks by The Joint Commission, the top accreditation group for U.S. health care organizations.

The same month, it announced it had snared a Department of Justice deal valued at up to $65 million to run the federal prison in Coleman.

But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona program director for the American Friends Service Committee, when it comes to privatizing prisons and criminal justice, “There is a clear disconnect between performance and contract acquisition.”

AFSC is working with Grassroots to research privatization issues, and, said Isaacs, “We see consistent patterns of abuse, neglect, lawsuits, escapes, riots and somehow  these corporations are still getting contracts.”

That was the case with Corizon, which snared a $1 billion-plus contract with Florida to provide medical care to prison inmates despite a trail of horrific inmate care both in Florida and other states.




Want to buy tickets to the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches?

The Houston Astros and Washington Nationals are gathering names of people interested in purchasing tickets for Grapefruit League games for the inaugural season at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches next year.  

Latest rendering of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Latest rendering of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, looking east from above Haverhill Road.

“We very much would like to know from folks who are interested so we can contact them when we are ready,’’ said Brady Ballard, the general manager of the $144 million facility scheduled to open in January on 160 acres south of 45th Street.

There’s no date yet for when ticket sales will be announced. But people interested in buying season and individual game tickets can send an email to

Brady Ballard, general manager for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Brady Ballard, general manager for The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

The teams are still working on launching a web site that will include the ballpark’s seating diagram and ticket prices. Those details will be announced later this year.

But members of the public already have been reaching out to the teams, which prompted the release of the email address to collect names.

“We are obviously excited about the initial interest. Maybe they’ve driven by the complex and are starting to see the changes taking place,’’ Ballard said.

“We are thankful. We value them as our future season ticket holders and future fans.’’


Atlanta Braves talking with Sarasota County about potential spring training home

The Atlanta Braves, who have flirted with Palm Beach County about a new spring training home, are now negotiating with Sarasota County.

Atlanta Braves President manager John Schuerholz
Atlanta Braves President manager John Schuerholz

“Sarasota County Commissioners authorized the county administrator on Tuesday to continue negotiating terms with the West Villages and the Atlanta Braves for the funding, design and construction of a state-of-the-art spring training destination in the new master-planned community,” the county announced today.

The proposal — in the city of North Port, south of Sarasota — calls for training facilities, practice fields and a 7,500-seat stadium on a 100-150 acre site. The team wants to move there in 2018.

Braves President John Schuerholz said the organization is “excited and appreciative that West Villages and Sarasota County are working with us to potentially secure a beautiful, state-of-the-art, future spring training location for the Braves.”

Palm Beach County officials have said they are open to the Braves returning to the areas. The Braves trained in West Palm Beach from 1962-1997 before moving to Orlando.

Baseball officials and local politicians join the the ground breaking ceremony to kick off construction on the new Major League Baseball spring training complex in West Palm Beach Monday November 9, 2015. Participants include MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the owners of the Astros and Nationals and local elected leaders. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Baseball officials and local politicians join the the ground breaking ceremony to kick off construction on the new Major League Baseball spring training complex in West Palm Beach Monday November 9, 2015. Participants include MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, the owners of the Astros and Nationals and local elected leaders. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

But local officials doubted there would be public money and land available. The county last year approved $113 million in tourist tax revenue for a new complex, under construction now in West Palm Beach, for the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.

The Braves are looking for a new home because they will face long bus trips for Grapefruit League games since the Astros (Kissimmee) and Nationals (Viera) will move to West Palm in January.



What did it mean when Donald Trump went “off the record”?

Should GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump release the tapes of his interview with the New York Times’ editorial board?

His opponents during Thursday night’s Republican debate called for the release of the audio of Trump’s statements to the New York Times in a January sitdown – saying his comments reveal his true intent on immigration.

But The Donald claims those comments were off the record and will remain so.

So what does “off the record” mean? Presidential candidate Donald Trump says he won’t release tapes of such statements made to the editorial board of the New York Times. (Creative Commons)

But what does it mean in journalism to go off-the-record?

Off-the record means the information received by the reporter cannot be used by publication in any context or attributed ever to that source.  The information can be used only if verified through second or third sources. Again, it is never attributed to the original source.

A reporter and newspaper risk losing credibility if the off-the-record comments are used in a story and attributed. And believe me, Trump’s opponents are taking note even as they stir the pot.

The current controversy erupted when Times columnist Gail Collins, who attended the January meeting, tipped her hand in saying that Trump’s pledge to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants was “going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session.” then wrote a story, saying that the Trump tape had gained “near-mythological status” in the Times’ newsroom and reflected his true positions.

Trump at the debate said “I think being off the record is a very important thing. I think it is a very powerful thing.”

Donald J. Trump Super Tuesday Press Conference at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida on March 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Donald J. Trump recently speaking at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

He said it is not fair to release off-the-record conversations, prefacing the remark that his opponents – Sen. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – have spoken many times to reporters off the record.

When it comes to reporters’ interviewing sources, there are four main methods regarding attribution: on-the-record, on background, deep background and off-the-record. These parameters are often set before an interview takes place and some interviews are a hybrid of all three.

The standard bearer for style and ethics in the industry is The Associated Press and has outlined the use of sources.

On-the-record, as it sounds, means that any comments made to the reporters can be attributed to the source without any caveat. It is, of course, incumbent upon the reporter to accurately report what the source said and reporters might “run quotes by” their subjects to make sure that in a fast-moving interview  they were not quoted incorrectly or out of context.

On background is usually used with a source who is an expert of the subject matter of the story, but does not want his or her name associated with it. This information is usually contextual and the attribution can be negotiated.

The AP, in its guidelines, says:

“Reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record. These background briefings have become routine in many venues, especially with government officials.”

Deep background is where a source of the information cannot be used, even on condition of anonymity. It can be heads up from a lawyer of an indictment about to come down, of a police officer about a big arrest or source may be acting as a whistle-blower, telling the reporter of corruption or scandal.

The most famous incident of using this method was, of course, Deep Throat, the anonymous source who was instrumental in helping the Washington Post break the Watergate Scandal that ended up bringing down the Nixon administration.

As a reporter with 30 years’ experience, it is not unusual to use a blended form of sourcing during an interview – and indeed some of Trump’s comments, such as those on tariffs, were on the record.

This blended style allows for a more honest and open interview where the subject can speak his or her mind. A reporter can stop the interview and ask to go on the record if a subject comes up that I think needs to be so.

A reporter may return to the source and ask him or her to go on the record with certain portions of the interview, as well. More likely than not, the subject will go on the record at that point and before the interview goes off the record again.


Astros, Nationals to unveil new logo for Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

DUFFYThe Houston Astros and Washington Nationals on Friday will unveil the logo for the new spring training stadium they will share starting next spring in West Palm Beach.

The logo will be unveiled at an event in downtown West Palm Beach to introduce Brady Ballard, the general manager of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

The event starts at 4:30 p.m. at Duffy’s Sports Grill at 225 Clematis St.

Construction is progressing on the $144 million stadium south of 45th Street between Haverhill Road and Military Trail.

It is scheduled to open in January.

Frankel hosting HUD official at private sober homes workshop in Delray Beach

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel is hosting a sober homes workshop for selected local government officials on March 11 in Delray Beach with an official from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel

Gustavo F. Velasquez, Assistant Secretary for HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office, will join Frankel and others on a driving tour of sober homes in Delray Beach.

The group, including unspecified city managers and city attorneys from Palm Beach and Broward counties, will then sit down to discuss problems facing cities from the proliferation of sober homes.

The driving tour and workshop are not open to the public. A press conference will be held after the workshop.

A precise location for the workshop has not been released yet.

“I’m very happy that Congresswoman Frankel is coming back and that she is accompanying the assistant secretary,’’ said Delray Beach mayor Cary Glickstein.

“This is a very positive step for us. Without federal intervention we are going to continue to struggle with this.’’