As Youth Services International exits Florida, critics ask: Why are for-profit businesses in charge of youthful offenders?

It’s almost impossible to talk about Youth Services International exiting the Florida juvenile system without also talking about privatization.

“We should recognize as a community that we cannot derive profit off the punishment and rehabilitation of kids,” said Gordon Weekes, the Broward County chief assistant public defender who for years has locked horns with YSI over the treatment of kids in its care.

“This should never have been a profit center.”

Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice long ago began putting the care and treatment

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

of juveniles bound for residential, treatment or detention facilities into the hands of private companies.

YSI was among the first to ink contracts and among the first to start chalking up troubling reports dating to its mid-1990s management of a Pahokee lockup: not enough staffers, not enough food and too much violence.

Last week, DJJ announced it was severing the company’s seven contracts as part of a whistleblower suit settlement. The whistleblowers, all former YSI employees, had reported, among other things: not enough staffers, not enough food and too much violence. (YSI said that, even though the suit was without merit,  it settled because it wanted to put the long-running litigation behind it. )

Caroline Isaacs
Caroline Isaacs

But, said Caroline Isaacs, Arizona director for the American Friends Service Committee, “This is not about a single bad actor or a few bad apples. It is inherent in the effort to make money and is driven by the concerns and needs of shareholders.”

“Oh, I never fault the companies on this stuff,” said Paul Wright. That’s a bit out of left field coming from Wright, a former prison inmate, the founder and Executive Director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of the award-winning Prison Legal News, which has for years has taken on prison privatization in all its manifestations.

Paul Wright
Paul Wright

But, said Wright, nobody should be surprised when a for-profit company finds ways to make profits.

“Let’s take them at their word they are in the business of making money,” he said. Cutting costs is part of the deal, he pointed out.

“It’s not their fault that government continues to shovel money at them.”

 

Weekes said YSI’s exit give DJJ an opportunity: a small, state-run facility that incorporates the best practices of juvenile detention. “Take the the profits we are paying to companies and get down to core  element of what a child needs to get back on the right track,” he said. “Once we have best practices, we can replicate that.

“We can’t just keep throwing good money after bad at the YSIs of the world.”

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.

Virtual visitation with prisoners: The jury’s still out

Face to face, sort of
Face to face, sort of

Virtual reality, meet prison life: Marketplace radio  reports this morning on the rising popularity of video visitations with jail and prison inmates.

On the surface, it’s a tech issue. But it’s also about whether the inmate will wind up back behind bars, especially if they are behind bars for a few years, as opposed to a few months. There’s evidence that recidivism is impacted by continued ties to loved ones and friends while serving time.

On one hand, the video conferencing will help families who may be hundreds of miles away from the prison. Or thousands of miles: Inmates are sometimes housed in out-of-state prisons, making a visit pretty much impossible.

And anyone who has ever wanted to visit a Florida inmate will wade through a thicket of dos and don’ts in order to get permission to visit, including things that probably wouldn’t be a problem with a video chat, such as wearing a tank top, carrying car keys and having a $20 bill in your back pocket.

On the other hand, there’s the human factor. Will a talk via screen carry the same emotional benefit as a talk behind a thick glass partition?

No big prison reform, but now they can track the chemical spray

Apparently, Florida has all along needed a law- or Rick Scott’s blessing – to figure out just how much CS gas (aka pepper spray)  state prisons have, where they put it and how they can get rid of it.Scott+2015

Finding a better way to trash empty gas canisters is not what the architects of a sweeping Senate prison reform bill had in mind this past session.

That bill was gutted by the House, though, just before it closed down for business three days ahead of schedule.

All along, lawmakers behind the Senate bill said the House’s suggested reforms weren’t reforms at all, but were window dressing: Changes that no one needed a law to implement.

Like figuring out how to inventory pepper spray.

This afternoon, Gov. Scott signed  Executive Order 15-102, which the governor’s office said makes “significant reforms in Florida’s prison system to improve safety, transparency and accountability.” Among the reforms:

  • Establishment of a usage and inventory policy to track, by institution, the use of chemical agents and disposal of expired, used, or damaged canisters of chemical agents.

The order also includes some significant items, such as unannounced inspections and  statistical analysis examining use of force by guards.

Not included, though, was the central Senate reform, an independent oversight commission. Nor were other reforms the Senate considered necessary in the wake of a series of stories by The Post, the Miami Herald and others exposing prison inmate deaths, abuse and unchecked brutality.

Just months ago, FSU’s Project on Accountable Justice concluded the state prison agency was so flawed that it recommended basically rebuilding it from the ground up.

One of the cases cited by the group:  The 2010 death of  Randall Jordan-Aparo.

He was gassed to death by guards.

.

 

 

Another day, another Florida prison guard headed to jail

Columbia CI
Columbia CI

Another day, another prison guard bust.

Make that two guards.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) reports that Columbia Correctional prison Sgt. Christopher Michael Jernigan and guard Donald Dwight Sims, Jr. have been charged with aggravated battery on an inmate and, in Jernigan’s case, tampering with evidence.

According to the FDLE, this is how it played out:

The Columbia Correctional Institution guards were taking Shurick Lewis, 41, to solitary confinement this past February when they ordered other inmates to leave the area. Lewis was then taken to a place without video surveillance and assaulted.

According to FDLE, after the beating, Jernigan told other inmates to clean up the blood, put a new mattress on the bunk and throw away bloody clothes.

Lewis, bleeding from his nose and mouth and with a swollen eye, was seen by a prison nurse. It’s not known what care he got, but the nurse sent him back to his cell – where he lost consciousness.

Several hours later, he was found by officers on the next shift and taken to Shands Hospital, where he was treated for a broken nose and several facial fractures.

The two guards offered vastly different stories: Sims said Lewis fell off his bunk. Jernigan said he used force after the inmate lunged at him.

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones

Jernigan turned himself in to the Columbia County Jail yesterday. Sims was arrested Monday night.

All this comes within weeks of the arrest of two prison guards and one ex-guard — all reputed members of the Ku Klux Klan — for conspiring to kill a former inmate.

That doesn’t exactly qualify as the start of a clean sweep, but it does give some credence to  Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones’s written comments about Jernigan and Sims: “The Florida Department of Corrections has absolutely no tolerance for the behavior and actions taken by these individuals.”

 

The fishing pole, the snitch, the fake murder & the KKK guards

Thomas Newcomb
Thomas Newcomb

Reputed Ku Klux Klan Grand Cyclops Charles Thomas Newcomb had two vials of insulin, eight rounds of 9MM ammo wiped clean of prints, a fishing pole and a plan.

Talks recorded by an FBI informant outline why Newcomb, an ex-Florida prison guard, was arrested Thursday and charged with conspiring to murder a former inmate.

Also arrested were two other Florida state prison guards identified as KKK members: David Elliot Moran and Thomas Jordan Driver.

It was Driver who fought with the inmate and who was bitten by him.
He had the grudge.

Thomas Driver
Thomas Driver

Arrest affidavits released late Thursday, though, indicate that it was Newcomb who had the plan.

In Palatka, where the ex-inmate lived, Newcomb didn’t rule out going in “with guns blazing,” according to the informant.

But he had a quieter option.

“I see that fishing pole like he’s been fishing, and give him a couple of (insulin) shots, and sit there and wait on him, then we can kind of lay him so he’s tippled over into the water. And he can breathe in just a little bit of that water,” Newcomb is quoted as saying in a transcribed recording.

“If we go down the road, and that son of a gun is walking by himself and there’s nobody else around, it ain’t going to take nothing for us to just stop the car and put him in this car and take him somewhere.”

David Moran
David Moran

It might have gone down just that way. But the informant got to the FBI, the FBI got to the targeted victim and together they staged a gory murder scene. The informant took cell phone pictures of the murder to Newcomb, Moran and Driver.

In transcripts of recordings with the men, the informant asks “Is this what ya’ll wanted?”

“Yeah!” responds one. “Hell yeah!”

The FBI arrested all three Thursday morning. They face 30 years in state prison.

Moran and Driver are being fired, said a Florida Department of Corrections spokesman.

To read the source affidavit used here: NEWCOMB – AFFIDAVIT AW_Redacted

No loose lips here: prison chief clamps down on talk of inmate abuse investigations

Julie+JonesTiming, as they say, is everything.
Smack in the middle of intense media scrutiny over inmate abuse and deaths, newly installed Department of Corrections chief Julie Jones has clamped down on agency investigators who discuss – yes!- inmate abuse and deaths.
Existing policies on how to access public records won’t change, but investigators with the agency’s Inspector General who investigate abuse, and until recently, deaths, are now required to sign off on agreements barring them from discussing open or closed investigations, even with other law enforcement officials.
Jones may have thought this was a smallish issue. After all, the same rules applied when she headed up the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
But that department wasn’t fending off accusations of cover-ups, violence, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the governor’s office intended to clamp down on bad press. And it didn’t have four whistleblowing Inspector General investigators already in court alleging retaliation by higher-ups.
A DOC spokesman says the move is designed to halt casual talk about formal investigations – think World War II and “Loose Lips sink ships”. But the ban also applies to closed investigations when presumably, loose lips would have no impact on a case. And it requires that no investigator “volunteer” information about a case. If not asked, they can’t tell.
And there is a lot to talk about, including why medical companies withheld information on inmate deaths:
http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/private-health-firms-withheld-details-of-some-inma/nj6dr/#5db6b621.3545241.735638