There’s a dreary predictability to the cycle of corporate child abuse funded by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).
It matters not whether the governor is a Democrat or a Republican. DJJ’s patience with well-connected private contractors is limitless, no matter who’s in office.
The evidence is succinctly summarized by The Palm Beach Post’s Pat Beall in her March 18 report on DJJ’s decision — at long last, and long overdue — to cancel Youth Services International’s (YSI) multimillion dollar contracts to operate “rehabilitative and nurturing” facilities for kids in trouble with the law.
The Sarasota-based company has been at the public trough since the Chiles administration, racking up bad publicity for the bad things that happen behind its walls. But reporters and editorial writers were no match for YSI’s stonewalling.
Year after year, DJJ continued doing business with YSI, notwithstanding chronic understaffing and violence at its facilities, as well as falsified documents and wage-and-hour violations. Generations of DJJ “leadership teams” took YSI’s word that staff was successfully completing training sessions to stay current on what DJJ loves to call “best practices.”
It took a whistleblower lawsuit to expose the emptiness of YSI’s claims of contract compliance, and the credulousness that passes for contract oversight at DJJ.
Beall reports that “six former YSI staffers alleged the company faked documents, hid problems and hoodwinked state inspectors into believing it was making good on tens
of millions of dollars in DJJ contracts.”
After four years of litigation in Leon County Circuit Court, the state finally cut ties with YSI. YSI agreed to pay the state $2 million, also known as chump change in the burgeoning world of corporate social work.
Capitalists have learned that there’s plenty of profit to be made on the backs of troubled teenagers, especially if you’re willing to feed the kids tiny portions of cheap eats.
According to the whistleblowers, YSI detention centers “routinely had issues with both the quality and quantity of food, so much so that some staffers bought them food out of their own pockets.”
Beall’s story ends, as these stories always do, with a zombified quote from DJJ Secretary Christina Daly, assuring the taxpaying public that, “Our focus and priority is to ensure that youth in our care are safe, and that effective treatments are being provided in rehabilitative and nurturing environments.”
If the kids in custody had a dollar for every time that lie comes out of a government “communications” office, they could eat steak and lobster instead of the peanut butter and slop served up by their “rehabilitative and nurturing” corporate jailers.
Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant. Column courtesy of Context Florida.