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Profit Over Kids: Part III

This is the third of a 3-part series.

As noted in the first two parts of this series, starting in the 1980s James F. Slattery had been investing in old hotels in New York City and turning them into halfway houses and ran into numerous troubles with government officials. He moved into other areas, notably operating for profit juvenile prisons in Florida.

The final nail in the coffin of Slattery’s operations in Florida came with a juvenile facility named Thompson Academy, a prison with 154 beds in Fort Lauderdale, plus the Broward Girls Academy, a 30-bed program about a mile away from Thompson. In both of these prisons troubles were a constant resulting in a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In this suit, Thompson Academy was called a “frightening and violent place” where juveniles were denied medical care when abused.

“Children are choked and slammed head first into concrete walls, their arms and fingers are bent back and twisted to inflict pain for infractions as minor as failing to follow an order to stand up.”

Slattery’s company settled the lawsuit in 2011 (terms were confidential).

At Broward girls constantly complained of sexual abuse. So-called “annual evaluations” by the state were perfunctory. A former shift supervisor said it “was a joke,” adding that: “The paperwork looked great, because someone was going around and spending overtime just to make sure that paperwork was correct. If there was something missing, they would just forge it.” Another former employee said “Just about every area you could look into, they were deficient…So they made up documents to make it seem like they weren’t.”

Chris Kirkham, who has written one of the best pieces of investigative journalism I’ve ever seen, closes his report with these words:

Last year, Florida opted not to extend YSI’s contract to oversee Thompson Academy…. In a letter to YSI sent in summer 2012, the state told the company that the contract would end because the DJJ was “moving away from large institutional models” and toward smaller, community-based programs. Still, the letter added, “We strongly encourage your participation” in an upcoming bid for new contracts. In January, the state gave YSI a $7.3 million, five-year contract to run the new Broward Youth Treatment Center, a 28-bed program less than a mile away from Thompson. And this summer, YSI won contracts to take over two more state facilities, one in the Tampa area and another in Jacksonville.

 

Back in 1998, when Slattery’s Correctional Services Corp. was in the process of merging with Youth Services International, a story appeared in the Baltimore Business Journal which expressed concern that the value of YSI ($33.9 million) has not kept pace with the asking price of $42.5 million. The writer of this article was not sure the deal would ever go through because of this issue. Slattery was quoted saying "We continue to be excited about this merger."

I bring this up to point out that the writer, wearing his “business hat” so to speak, was commenting as if this was just another ordinary business deal where making money was the only goal. This is pure capitalism, where the goal is to constantly seek “markets” for “commodities.” However, in this case we are not talking about new cars, computers, IPhones, oil, etc. Rather we are talking about human beings – in this case children. But when the profit motive takes over it doesn’t matter.

It should be pointed out that privately run prisons – for juveniles or adults – are not unique when it comes to abuse and scandals. It has been documented for almost 200 years that state-run youth correctional facilities are not immune to this. Witness the recent reports of abuse and violence in systems operated by federal, state and local governments (click on links here, here and here for examples).

I am of the belief – and there is solid evidence to support this – that such abuse has continued within both public and private prisons because of the skin color and social class of those incarcerated. It usually takes a monumental effort (e.g., a lawsuit) to get any corrective action. But all too often the case gets “settled” and those responsible – the James Slattery’s of the world – ride into the sunset with a pile of money, never feeling the handcuffs or the inside of a jail.

Keywords: Juvenile justice, privatization, Randall Shelden

Posted in Blog, Correctional Institutions

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