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Juveniles Held Hostage for Profit by CSC in Florida

According to a consultant hired by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the Pahokee Youth Development Center (Juvenile prison) operated by the Correctional Services Corporation (CSC) kept ten juvenile detainees beyond their release dates for no other reason than to beef up corporate profits.

Consultant David Bachman wrote in a November 1998 report to the state that the youths were detained beyond their release dates so they would be included in a quarterly head count used to determine the amount of funding that CSC receives. Bachman said he found a memo indicating the juveniles were to be held longer than necessary.

The Sarasota, Florida-based CSC has a three-year, $30 million contract to manage juvenile detention centers in Pahokee and Polk County. The company operates 15 other juvenile facilities nationwide and in Puerto Rico.

The state of Florida pays CSC an average of $68.40 per detainee/day at the 350 bed Pahokee lockup; the local school district pays the company an additional $2.5 million annually to provide educational services there.

The juveniles who were kept beyond their release dates were scheduled to go home a week before the quarterly school board head count. Delaying the release of the ten youths to include them in the count "increased the educational funds and the per diem costs to the state," said Bachman.

Correctional Services vice president Jim Irving denied juveniles were improperly detained to increase the company's income; however he failed to offer any other explanation for why the youths weren't released as scheduled.

The delayed releases cited in Bachman's report are the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the privately-operated Pahokee lockup since it opened in January 1997. State officials have confirmed 15 cases of staff abuse; ten employees have been fired; one has resigned and seven have been reprimanded for excessive or improper use of force. The state has repeatedly warned CSC about its failure to train staff in the proper use of force.

In July 1998, juveniles complained to Dade County Circuit Judge Thomas Petersen about conditions at the center, saying they had been stripped to their underwear (and sometimes naked), placed in solitary confinement and prohibited from sitting down or falling asleep. They also claimed they were kept in their cells for up to 16 hours a day.

After an on-site visit, Judge Petersen harshly criticized the facility and concluded it was at best unsuitable for many of the juveniles incarcerated there, many of whom are non-violent property offenders. CSC officials denied the youth's accusations and disputed the judge's findings.

Miami-Dade County juvenile court judges have since been ordered by prosecutors to stop committing sentenced offenders to the Pahokee Youth Development Center. The state is appealing the order to the Third District Court of Appeal.

Bachman noted in his report that problems similar to the ones cited at the Pahokee lockup are likely to occur at other state juvenile facilities, most of which are operated by the private sector. He recommended the legislature take steps to ensure that private companies operating juvenile detention centers are not given authority over when youths are to be released. Such protections are already in place for privately-operated adult prisons.

Palm Beach Post, Prison Privatization Report Int'l