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.

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.




Hey, Buddy, can you spare a hipbone? A prison inmate lost his to DOC


Buddy, can you spare a hip bone?
Maybe someone has an extra one of these laying around?

George Horn got a bed and it only took two years.

That’s two years of sleeping in a prison wheelchair.

This month, though, Horn reports the Florida Department of Corrections has finally come through with a hospital bed.

Horn needs the bed because he has no hip bone. He has no hip bone because FDOC first removed it, then refused to replace it.

That left him in a wheelchair, night and day. Pretty hard to climb into a bunk bed without a hip.

It also left Horn in excruciating pain. And an FDOC doctor took away his morphine, too – cold turkey.

In fact, FDOC’s medical staff ignored outside surgeon’s instructions, and so for months, prison medical staff drained Horn’s infected leg rather than operate on it.

At one point, says Horn, they suctioned the infected liquid out of his leg with what appeared to be dental equipment.

Even when one surgeon – who didn’t work for DOC – said Horn had to go to an ER for emergency treatment of his leg, which was oozing infected “material”, FDOC and its private medical contractors ignored his instructions, the surgeon said.

George Horn
George Horn

But Horn reports he got a hospital bed this month, and Lortab three times a day. He also reports he has an infection in the leg again. And, of course, no hipbone.

George Horn didn’t get to prison because he is an angel, and he would be the first to say so. He’s in for burglary. But as he told The Post back in 2014,  “Being in prison is my punishment to pay my debt to society. I messed up.”

“But,” he said, “I’m a prisoner, not a monster.”

Horn is in federal court, suing both the state and the private medical company which oversaw his treatment, at least, part of the time. They moved to have the suit tossed. A federal magistrate just said no, and in pretty strong language.

Cigna won’t offer federal Florida health care plans, cites Palm Beach Post reports

151262785Citing “an exponential increase in fraudulent and abusive” substance abuse treatment practices – and in particular drug screening- Cigna Inc. won’t be offering Florida health plans on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace when it opens for business in the next few weeks.

The decision is temporary- it affects only 2016, and only  individual and family medical plans offered on the Florida public health insurance marketplace.

Plans offered off-exchange, Cigna-HealthSpring Medicare Advantage Plans and Cigna’s group health plans offered through employers and unions aren’t impacted.

In explaining the decision, Cigna spokesman Joseph Mondy cited Post articles detailing how fraudulent drug screening has reaped millions for South Florida labs, especially those affiliated with sober homes and treatment centers.  In one case found by The Post, pee-in-a-cup lab work cost more than $300,000- for a single client.

The sky-high charges have exploited addicts and alcoholics seeking help, gouged insurers and spurred an FBI investigation into the area’s billion-dollar addiction treatment industry.

Lab practices go beyond ballooning charges, however. Earlier this year, Cigna sued Sky Toxicology and two affiliated lab firms in federal court here, alleging a $20 million civil fraud revolving around urine testing.

According to the suit, Sky, a consortium of labs, offered doctors and drug treatment centers ownership interests in the companies. For their investment, said Cigna, providers were paid “kickbacks in the form of dividends” linked to how many urine tests they sent to Sky.

The suit did not specify how much money Sky paid to the doctors and centers. However, two sources close to the industry told The Post that $12,500 was one investment amount and that for the $12,500, providers sending urine to Sky could get anywhere from $24,000 quarterly to $50,000 monthly.

Settlement talks in the suit are expected to get underway later this month, according to court records.


State juvenile justice chief: ‘Right decision’ for Youth Services International to call it quits in Palm Beach

It’s all over but the shouting:  Less than two weeks after Palm Beach County’s congressional delegation asked the Department of Juvenile Justice to temporarily shutter a troubled local juvenile detention center, the private company running the facility is calling it quits.

Sarasota-based Youth Services International, which has in recent months been the target of withering criticism by Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Van for its operation of the 118-bed Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, told DJJ it is terminating its multi-million dollar contract.

Although DJJ Secretary Christine Daly said in a prepared statement that it was YSI’s choice, she also stated that “YSI made the right decision.”


Congressional reps ask state to close local juvenile lockup until FDLE wraps up investigation


Shelley Vana, paying a second visit to the juvenile center.
Shelley Vana, paying a second visit to the juvenile center.

Four South Florida congressional representatives are asking the state to shutter Palm Beach County’s troubled juvenile detention center until an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agency is complete.

In an Aug. 7 letter to Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly, U.S. Representatives Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch and Patrick Murphy wrote that, “We are disturbed by recent reports that outline a troubling trend of violent altercations” at the Palm Beach Regional Juvenile Correctional Facility.

Nor were they happy with reports of substandard living conditions and inadequate meals reported by Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana, who has for months criticized management of the state facility by a private company, Youth Services International.

Daly earlier this year asked FDLE to investigate the lockup, which houses more than 100 teenage boys in serious trouble with the law.

But that’s not enough, the representatives stated: Given a history of mismanagement by YSI, which last year lost a state contract to run a state substance abuse treatment center for juveniles in Santa Rosa County, and continued reports of trouble at the local facility, the four congressional reps asked DJJ “to suspend the operation of the facility pending the outcome” of the FDLE inquiry – and to investigate whether YSI is competent to run it.

Palm Beach County addiction business a $1 billion gold rush, FBI investigating

Urine test stripsUnder the radar, local fortunes are being made here, and quickly, from getting addicts and alcoholics clean and sober.

With the big money has come big problems: Reports of kickbacks, patient brokering, inflated medical testing bills and insurance fraud are rampant. Take the out of state couple who opened a bill from a local drug testing lab with links to the sober home where their son was treated, to find a $300,000-plus bill. For urine testing.

In fact, South Florida drug testing labs affiliated with sober homes have mushroomed in the last few years, creating potential for conflicts of interest – and hefty revenue – as sober home clients are told urine testing is required, then steered to the lab owned by the sober home operator, or one the operator has a financial interest in.

It’s against this backdrop, and the state’s weak efforts to regulate sober homes, that the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, a Boca-based association of sober home owners and treatment businesses, gets its Orlando conference off the ground this morning.

Maybe the FBI will come, too – they’ve been investigating for months now….



Congress in 1950: $1 a day fine for immigrant labor

It's not GEO's first brush with criticism. In 2013, FAU students protested the proposed naming of the football stadium after GEO. The proposal flopped.
It’s not GEO’s first brush with criticism. In 2013, FAU students protested the proposed naming of the football stadium after GEO. The proposal flopped.

GEO Group, the Boca-based private prison and immigrant detention facility is being accused of paying immigrants at their Denver facility a dollar-a-day to, among other things, cook and serve meals, mop floors, and yes, scrub out the toilets.

A group of immigrants filed suit in federal court, and now a judge has ruled that their suit can continue, according to the Associated Press.

Although GEO is best known for its original line of business- managing prisons- the cash cow for both it and Corrections Corporation of America, another prison management firm, is federal contracts, some with the Bureau of Prisons, and some with immigrant detention.

Not all immigrants are there because they broke the law. Some are waiting a decision on their status. But just as both companies have established a string of abuses at prisons, they have also been linked to serious problems with treatment of immigrants, most notably CCA’s operation of a family center for immigrants.

As for the labor lawsuit, GEO has argued that its dollar-a-day paycheck is in line with federal rules, and that the work was voluntary.

They may have a point on the wages. American University professor Anita Sinha told AP Congress established the daily wage –  in 1950.

Greenlighting more NSA snooping, surveillance court judge gets…snippy

"Can you hear me now?" Photo courtesy of futurestreet
“Can you hear me now?” You bet they can. 
Photo courtesy of futurestreet/flickr

In the words of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Michael Mosman: “Plus ya change, plus c’est la meme chose” –  for, as he cheerfully points out,  the next 180 days.

NSA’s very big ears are up and at it again, courtesy of Judge Mosman. Mosman has granted permission for the spy agency to collect phone call records of pretty much everyone, everywhere in the U.S. for the next six months.

This comes only weeks after Congress killed off this key part of the phone spying program and a federal appeals court ruled it unlawful.

Mosman concluded the 180-day grace period Congress gave NSA to wind things down specifically allows for continued phone spying.

That may or may not have been unexpected. (And what the NSA is apparently allowed to keep and use is much broader and more personal than even the billions of phone calls it has collected to date.)

But what was a surprise – certainly to the federal appeals court which last month took exception to the program’s legality- was Mosman’s emphasis on how his fellow jurists were dead wrong, just plain wrong, utterly wrong  and really, very totally wrong.

Of course, he didn’t put it quite that way.

“This Court respectfully disagrees with that Court’s analysis,” Mosman wrote.

In fact, Mosman’s respectful disagreement goes on for quite a few paragraphs, though was perhaps best summed up in a single sentence: “To a considerable extent, the Second Circuit’s analysis rests on mischaracterizations of how this program works.”

Translation: They just don’t get it.

Mosman countered virtually every argument made against the program: The NSA only has access to limited information, he said; it is necessary to gather up phone records of all innocent people in order to find the records of the guilty few;  the NSA is careful about privacy rules; people have no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to phone call data.

As it happens, much criticism about the spying program also has involved whether FISC judges bent over backward to accommodate the NSA’s staggeringly broad requests.

It’s FISC that has to approve hoovering up phone records. Which Mosman has now done, again, for 180 days.

“Plus ya change, plus c’est la meme chose” he noted: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Rodeos, the evils of hazing and more taxpayer turkeys from Florida TaxWatch

Courtesy of

When it comes to state budgeting, one man’s turkey is another man’s bottom-line, can’t-live-without necessity.

And the 2015 Florida TaxWatch list of budget turkeys hatched this last legislative session includes quite a few items it’s hard to argue against: a meals program for the elderly, for instance, and desperately needed infrastructure improvements in the Glades.

But as the TaxWatch authors take pains to point out, the turkey list has nothing to do with the value of the projects.

Rather, the conservative-minded advocacy group cites the fact that some projects duplicated others, or were stuffed into the budget at the last minute, or were never discussed in committee hearings. In short, they were added to the state’s multi-billion dollar budget without a whole lot of taxpayer scrutiny.

Among those that TaxWatch believes would have benefited from a lot more public discussion and a lot less haste:

  • $1 million for an anti-hazing course at a public university
  • $50,000 for outdoor fitness equipment at a Volusia County park
  • $154,000 for a Key West American Legion Post
  • $350,000 earmarked for two rodeos.

TaxWatch cites committee meetings where information wasn’t provided to the public until after the meeting adjourned – or in some cases, not provided at all. Just before the budget was adopted, they point out, an additional $300 million in projects were added.

Not that all of the turkeys survived.

Gov. Rick Scott chopped and chopped: The $350,000 for the rodeos was vetoed. So was the American Legion Post funding.

Then again, so was the $400,000 water infrastructure for the Glades.