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CSC Cancels Florida Juvenile Facility Contract

Correctional Services Corp. (CSC) announced Aug. 23, 1999 that it was withdrawing from an $8.7 million-a-year contract to operate the Pahokee Youth Development Center, a 350 bed Florida juvenile facility, 8 months before the contract is due to expire.

The announcement came six weeks after the Pahokee facility failed a major state inspection and one week before a court hearing on safety concerns at the privately-operated youth center. State inspectors had criticized the facility's counseling services, poor physical condition, education programs, disruptive atmosphere and continued complaints of physical abuse by staff members.

After reviewing the inspection report Juvenile Court Judge Ron Alvarez compared the CSC-run youth center to a "third-world country that is controlled by ... some type of evil power," and gave the company 7 weeks to make improvements. "Treatment of these children, so far, based upon this report, comes dangerously close to being inhumane," Alvarez said.

The Pahokee youth center has gone through five administrators since it opened in 1997, and has been criticized by state monitors and child-welfare advocates for poor manageme nt and excessive use of force. The Washington-based Youth Law Center has condemned conditions at the facility as a "denial of basic constitutional rights." There have been 15 confirmed cases of staff abuse.

In Nov. 1998 a consultant hired by the state reported that CSC had kept 10 youths beyond their release dates so they would be included in a quarterly head count used to determine the company's per diem payments. [PLN, June, 1999].

CSC also has been accused of charging the Palm Beach County School District for education programs that juveniles did not attend. In late Oct. and early Nov. 1998, teachers stopped holding classes at the Pahokee center for two and a half weeks. At first the company claimed the youths had been taught in their dorms, but eventually admitted there were no classes for 13 school days.

On May 20, 1999, CSC agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the Florida ACLU over the company's refusal to release internal documents. A CSC attorney had argued that records concerning the treatment of state-sentenced juvenile offenders at the Pahokee lockup were not public because the records were maintained by a private corporation. As part of the settlement CSC agreed to release thousands of pages of documentation and to pay the ACLU $11,400 in court costs and attorney fees.

While condemning CSC's mismanagement of the Pahokee facility, critics have also faulted Florida's Dept. of Juvenile Justice for failing to take action against the company despite evidence of abuse and malfeasance. Public defender Barbara White noted that juvenile authorities "have spent a lot of money on the place, so they've got too much at stake to admit it doesn't work."

Dept. of Juvenile Justice Secretary Bill Bankhead said the state does not intend to close the Pahokee center and is seeking another private operator to assume management of the facility.

Sources: Palm Beach Post, Corr. Digest, PPRI

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