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“They turned out to be the ally of the corporations, and the ally of the system.” Florida’s permissive oversight has allowed Youth Services International to essentially game the system since entering the state more than a decade ago.Despite contractual requirements that the company report serious incidents at its facilities, YSI routinely fails to document problems, sanitizes those reports it does submit and pressures inmates to withhold evidence of mistreatment, according to interviews with 14 former YSI employees.Conditions appeared so foul and perilous that he told his supervisors that he “emphatically recommended that the facility be closed,” according to a memo about the discussions.What happened next speaks to how Youth Services International has managed to forge a lucrative business running private juvenile prisons in Florida and 15 other states even amid mounting evidence of abuse.The prison was infested with ants and cockroaches, toilets were frequently clogged and children reported finding bugs in their meager portions of food.“From day one, it was hell,” said Jerry Blanton, a former monitor with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, who was then tasked with inspecting Thompson Academy.
“We thought DJJ was going to be our biggest ally,” said Gordon Weekes, the chief juvenile public defender in Broward County, who has for years complained to the state about conditions inside two YSI prisons there.The company used connections with state officials to complain that Blanton was intimidating staff.Less than a week later, the state removed him as monitor of the facility. Thompson remained open, and Youth Services International retained its contract to operate it.“They rely too much on what the providers tell them, and not enough on what the children tell them,” said David Utter, the director of Florida policy at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who has followed the rise of YSI and was involved in a lawsuit alleging abuse at Thompson Academy.“Quality assurance is looking at contract adherence, whether they’re meeting the general terms of the contract, not the goals of the rehabilitation of the youth,” explained Weekes, the Broward County public defender. They look more at whether [the contractors] are record-keeping properly.” Huff Post reviewed logs documenting complaints inside state youth prisons recorded between 20.
One guard had fractured an inmate’s elbow after the boy refused instructions to throw away a cup, according to incident reports.