Another Teenager Beaten at Thompson Academy; State Legislators Urge Investigation
By Lisa Rab, Fri., Jan. 7 2011
Regla Cazañas holds up a picture of her 17-year-old son's swollen face. His pale skin is marred by
wine-colored bruises, and covered with an oxygen mask.
On Saturday, he was beaten unconscious by fellow teenagers at the Thompson Academy juvenile detention
center in Pembroke Pines. Six days later he remains in the hospital, with five metal plates in his face.
He can't talk, or open his mouth properly. "My son almost died," Cazañas says, holding back tears. "I don't
want another kid to get hurt."
This morning, Cazañas joined a group of other mothers of Thompson residents to publicly beg state legislators
to cancel the $14.8 million contract that keeps the facility open. Youth Services International, a private,
for-profit company based in Sarasota, runs the all-male, "moderate risk" detention center.
"The youth at the facility are being abused," Isis Snow, whose son was recently released from Thompson, told
the lawmakers. "We don't feel the state's dollars are being used properly."
Snow's son is one of five plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit alleging that Thompson is a violent, terrifying place,
where children are undernourished and mistreated by staffers. One 15-year-old says he was twice sexually
assaulted by a male counselor.
Another 16-year-old alleges a counselor choked him, dragged him down the hall and slammed his head
against a metal door.
Cazañas, who is not a plaintiff in the suit, says staff members provided her some information about what
happened to her son, but the details are sketchy. She knows there was an argument, and someone hit the boy
so hard that he smashed his face on a pole. He fell to the ground, helpless, and two other kids joined in to kick
and beat him. Staff members told her they couldn't stop the violence.
"They claim that it all happened so fast that they couldn't prevent it," Cazañas says. "How can this have
Craig Ferguson, Thompson's administrator, has not responded to New Times' request for comment.
After listening to the mothers' stories at a meeting at the African American Research Library and Cultural
Center in Fort Lauderdale, the delegation of state legislators agreed to write a letter asking the Department of
Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to immediately launch an investigation of Thompson.
"Time is of the essence," Sen. Chris Smith said.
A DJJ spokesperson has said the department is waiting for law enforcement officials to finish their investigation
of the abuse allegations. In November, DJJ reviewers gave Thompson good marks, granting it "deemed
status," meaning it it has an overall performance rating of 80 percent or higher.
Youth Services has a less-than-stellar track record for running juvenile lockups. The company has twice been
sued over allegations that its counselors sexually abused inmates at detention centers in South Dakota. In the
late '90s, a Pahokee facility run by Youth Services' former parent company became a national embarrassment,
when teens were imprisoned longer than necessary simply to increase profit margins.