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Abu Ghraib Brutality in Florida’s Youth Prisons: Suit Charges Rape and Other Abuses

| October 11, 2010

handcuffs children

Gray sites in Florida.

It’s the sort of thing the Red Cross documented at Abu Ghraib prison or in so-called “black sites”—secret prisons run by the CIA where terror suspects were tortured by various means that don’t necessarily create blood: the slam against a wall, the choke, the bending and twisting of arms and fingers, forcing inmates to sleep on floors, the verbal abuse and humiliation, the denial of rights to see a lawyer.

This wasn’t happening in a black site or in Iraq. According to a federal class action suit filed Friday in Fort Lauderdale, it was happening—and may still be happening—in one of Florida’s 25 juvenile detention centers run under authority of the Department of Juvenile Justice. It was happening to children, one of whom, the suit alleges, was raped by a prison staffer who continued supervising children after the victim alleged the first rape. The staffer allegedly raped the 15-year-old boy again. The boy, who subsequently tried to commit suicide three times according to the suit, including by drinking bleach, was released to his mother a week before the suit was filed.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit against Youth Services International, the private company that runs Thompson Academy in Broward County and several other similar facilities in the state, at a cost of $74 million to taxpayers. The company runs eight facilities in Florida, including two in St. Augustine, where children from Flagler County may be incarcerated: St. Johns Juvenile Correctional Facility, a maximum-security juvenile prison, and St. Johns Youth Academy, on the same campus, though that one is rated a medium-security prison for youths.

Thompson Academy officials say the suit is “unsubstantiated.” The Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice, whose rules for documenting any incident that “has the potential to disrupt the normal operations of the facility or program [or] may bring attention to the department” were apparently not followed, is investigating. So is the Department of Children and Families are investigating.

The youth prison is a medium-security facility for 154 males age 13 to 18 who are incarcerated there from six to nine months for such things as repeated property crimes, but not violent crimes against individuals. The prison is run by Youth Services International, a company “marred by egregious conditions in its conditions in other states,” according to the suit, which documents the death of one inmate in the company’s custody at a facility in Iowa , along with a case of repeated sexual abuse in another, a rape by an inmate’s cell-mate in another, a guilty plea from a counselor who sexually exploited a female inmate in yet another, and so on.

The law center filed the suit against the Broward County facility after visiting the prison with a Florida attorney beginning on Sept. 8, meeting with several inmates—then being barred from meeting with them again. Facility staff met with several of the youths after their encounters with the law center’s representative and, according to the suit, intimidated the youths into signing statements that said they would no longer be willing to meet with law center representatives. One of the boys refused to sign and was later abused physically and verbally, according to the court records.

Another boy, referred to in the suit by the initials D.B., a 15-year-old, later retracted his statement waiving his right to speak with an attorney, and told law center representatives of two rapes.  The boy claims the first rape took place on march 10 when he was alone in the laundry room. The suit claims a youth counselor by the name of Presley “entered the laundry room and grabbed his own crotch and asked ‘are you going to suck it?’ D.B. refused, but defendant Presley continued to demand that he perform oral sex. Eventually, defendant Presley pulled out his penis and forced D.B. to perform oral sex. When defendant Presley ejaculated, D.B. spit out defendant Presley’s semen into a rag. Defendant Presley then left the laundry room.”

D.B. turned over the rag with the evidence to other staffers. He was told not to mention the incident, though an internal an investigator told him he’d “passed” a test when he accurately described his alleged attacker’s penis. Despite that, D.B. was assigned the same counselor when he was taken to a medical appointment outside the prison. There, in a bathroom, “Presley escorted D.B. to the bathroom, removed D.B’s handcuffs, and followed D.B. into the bathroom. Defendant Presley stood behind D.B. and asked him “are you going to do it?” D.B. asked what he meant, and Defendant Pressley responded: “suck it.” Defendant Presley then pulled out his penis and said that he would not let D.B. out of the bathroom. D.B. then performed nonconsensual oral sex on Defendant Presley for a second time.”

A judge released the boy to his mother on Oct. 1.

The suit also charges that staffers at the prison walled or attempted to wall individual inmates by throwing them against the wall. On Sept. 27, the boy who refused to sign a waiver saying he would not speak to a law center lawyer, referred to as D.L. in the suit, was physically assaulted in a day room at the prison, “without provocation,” the lawsuit states, by a youth counselor referred to as Augustine. “Augustine instructed D.L. to stand up and then called D.L. a ‘fuck nigger,’” the suit states. “When D.L. responded that defendant Augustine could not call him that, defendant Augustine continued to direct abusive, racial epithets toward D.L.

The Department of Juvenile Justice operates 25 juvenile detention centers in 24 counties with a total of 2,007 beds. Youth Services International information says that “Visitation is an important component of a youth’s stay in detention and is encouraged and supported by detention staff. Parents, grandparents, and legal guardians are approved visitors. Others may only visit if so ordered by the court or specifically approved by the Superintendent or designee.” The company’s website also says that “Legal counsel, Probation, law enforcement, clergy and other professionals may visit youth outside of regularly established visitation times as necessary.”

But the company and the Department of Juvenile Justice, the suit claims, have developed means of circumventing inmates’ right to see legal representation that isn’t strictly their own, so that when a human rights organization visits, inmates may be kept from speaking to those visitors. Inmates are also not allowed to have confidential telephone conversations with their lawyers.

“Youth confined at Thompson Academy describe the facility as a frightening and violent place where they are subject to abusive and unconstitutional conditions,” the suit sums up, “included repeated physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by guards, which is ignored and encouraged through the negligence of staff, supervisors, the facility administrator, and officials at DJJ. YSI ensures its ability to abuse children with impunity by denying youth access to lawyers who could help protect them.”

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6 Responses for “Abu Ghraib Brutality in Florida’s Youth Prisons: Suit Charges Rape and Other Abuses”

  1. elaygee says:

    Creepublican hired firm and Creepublican run State. You want to elect more of these thugs to run our State?

  2. bond says:

    ysi has run this facility for a few years. the same issues go back to 2003 and on.. someone should look at the reports that were submitted to the regional office in west palm beach fl. during that period. why isn’t the broward sheriff’s dept investigating?

  3. Running Bull says:

    This is just another exampleof the republican controlled government of Florida,
    and their rush to privatization. Sell the government to private business.
    And you are gonna elect these republicans and let them close to your social security retirment fund?
    You have been warned.

  4. Liana G says:

    Whenever I read articles involving abuse of children by those responsible for protecting them, I get really angry. It seems that all society wants to do is to place the blame but not fix the problem.

    And of course all fingers point to the parents. But who educates us parents. Are we parents not a product of our society and our great education system.

    When you have school systems Flagler included, that promote and encourage violence and sexual harassment through activities that are part of the school curriculum, then WHO really is to be blamed?

    Parents are the greatest contributors to a capitalist society. We certainly pay our share of taxes, we support businesses when we purchase the clothes, food, toys, books, the bigger car, the house in the burbs, and all the other expenses that comes with the house and with having kids. We also pay the salaries of teachers and administrators and district personnel. And all we ask in return is for them to give our children a quality education so that they can become productive members of society. Instead our children are taught that violence and sexual harassment are okay, then they get thrown in the system and have the same behavior inflicted on them by adults. When all they were doing was repeating what they were taught in school to do. But it’s us parents fault.

    So let me ask – When the American family today is made up of parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet, can we really blame parents for not being as involved.
    What choices do parents have today – Do we feed our children and clothe them and provide a roof over their heads, and pay the salaries of teachers, and administrators and district personnel, or do we quit our jobs, pay no taxes, and watch the demise of our society.

    Parents send their children to school so that they can receive a quality education instead, they are taught sexual harassment and violence and given a mediocre education at best.

    Please, stop with the blame. Who educated us parents?

  5. Terri says:

    It has nothing to do with the education of the parents it has to do with how you discipline your children and the environment you raise them in. In addition, it has to do with who you vote into office, because if your child gets into trouble like these kids then guess who is going to be in charge of them? Not people with the Department of Juvenile Assessment Center. No, it is going to be Want to know how these people came to be in charge of our children? Republican Jeb Bush and his Brother W. Bush and their push for privatization. Privatization is suppose to be cheaper, better, faster, blah, blah, blah. It has not been determined to be any of those things except that they do not provide the excellent service that was being provided by the state workers previously. Now any Tom, Dick or Nimrod can come in with a business and run a prison or a JAC. You can than your republican candidates for that and the one that is coming is going to continue to do the same thing. He cares nothing for Florida or the people in it, he only wishes to push his agenda.

  6. Frank says:

    Liana G, said
    “When you have school systems Flagler included, that promote and encourage violence and sexual harassment through activities that are part of the school curriculum, then WHO really is to be blamed?”

    Can you back up that nonsense statement?

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