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Florida Cancels Youth Prison Contract Due to Abusive Atmosphere

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) cancelled the contract for a residential youth program run by Youth Services International (YSI). DJJ defaulted on the contract for the Santa Rosa Substance Abuse Treatment Center because the facility’s staff “failed to correct deficiencies and sustain those corrective actions in areas involving safety and security, effective behavioral interventions, and appropriate reporting of incidents for this program.”

A May report by the Bureau of Quality Improvement found the facility to be in compliance with 135 of 144 state standards and in limited compliance with six standards. It failed on the provision of an abuse-free environment, protective action response, and timely completion of Residential Positive Achievement Change Tool assessments. It found three substantiated reports of excessive force with nine complaints against staff under DJJ review and two more under review by the Inspector General. 

A June 26 letter from DJJ to YSI noted four YSI employees were terminated over a period of two months for excessive or unnecessary use of force or the failure to report safety and security issues. A November 2013 report by the Huffington Post found that authorities in five states were probing into negligent and violent conditions in YSI run facilities, yet the DJJ had awarded four new contracts worth nearly $37 million to YSI in the past year.

That report resulted in legislative budget action that required the DJJ to consider a contractor’s history in other states in its criteria to award a contact.

 “DJJ takes very seriously the safety and welfare of the youth currently in our care and does not tolerate actions which could place the youth for whom we are responsible in harm’s way, including those under the supervision of our contract providers,” said Interim DJJ Secretary Christina K. Daly in a statement announcing the August 20, 2014, contract cancellation.

Gordon Weekes, Broward County’s chief assistant public defender, questions if any change will really occur. “In the past when they’ve shut down YSI facilities, they’ve just popped back up under a different name with the same staff, and DJJ has absolutely no problem with that,” he said. He note that when YSI’s Thompson Academy was closed after physical and sexual abuse claims, “that program  reconstituted  itself under a different name, right down the street” with many of the same employees. It has contracts for eight other facilities in Florida.”

The contract cancellation prohibits YSI from bidding on state contracts for 12 months, including one for the St. John’s Juvenile Correctional facility that it now operates. YSI challenged DJJ’s contract termination with the Division of Administrative Hearings.

Sources:, Orlando Sentinel, 

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