Okeechobee Juvenile CF
Okeechobee, Florida
December 5, 2004 Palm Beach Post

Jimmy Haynes lost his job as a "behavioral specialist" at a juvenile drug treatment center for punching a 15-
year-old in the face. Nine days after Haynes was fired from the privately operated center in Orlando, he
was hired by a state-run juvenile detention center less than 15 miles away. Haynes worked there for seven
weeks before supervisors at his new job realized their mistake. He wasn't the only one. A Palm Beach Post
review of records from the state and 40 of its private contractors uncovered at least 200 employees hired
at juvenile justice centers in recent years after they were fired from similar jobs for violence, misconduct or
incompetence. The taxpayer-funded privately operated companies that run the bulk of Florida's juvenile
justice system hired workers who had sexual relationships with teenagers they were supposed to protect.
They hired workers who kicked, punched, choked, tackled and head-butted teens in their care.
Supervisors across the state repeatedly checked "do not rehire" and "not eligible for rehire" in the files of
employees fired for such offenses. But managers at other centers never knew of those histories. And a few
companies knew about their workers' histories but were so desperate to find people willing to work for $8 to
$9 an hour that they looked the other way. Here's how the state and its private contractors enable bad
employees to get juvenile justice jobs again and again: •Even though state laws require them to open their
employees' files, some contractors cling to a corporate culture of secrecy, giving neutral references. •State
investigations of employee misconduct can drag on for three months or more, allowing bad workers to find
new jobs while their cases sit unresolved. •Each of the state's numerous private contractors operates in
isolation, without access to a central database of juvenile justice workers' job histories. To cut costs,
Florida outsourced nearly all of its residential programs. The state now has one of the highest rates of
privatization in the country — about nine in 10 centers are managed by contractors. A grand jury
investigated abuses at the Florida Institute for Girls, a maximum-security prison for teenage offenders in
suburban West Palm Beach. One worker was criminally charged for having sex with two teen inmates, and
another was arrested for assault. In four separate incidents, workers broke girls' arms in violent restraints.
Securicor New Century hired Marvin Thomas at a facility outside Okeechobee 53 days after he was fired
from another center for lying about abuse. Investigators said Thomas attempted to cover up an incident in
which a co-worker threw a boy to the ground and beat him. Thomas lied to his bosses, according to the
previous company's records, and tried to intimidate several boys into not telling anyone what happened.
Thomas did not return phone calls from The Post. Securicor President and CEO Gail Browne said her
company hired Thomas just as it was taking over from a previous contractor and that his reference checks
may have been lost in the transition. To state officials, the arithmetic of privatizing juvenile justice is
irresistibly simple. Contractors compete to offer the lowest price, and a treatment center can be outsourced
for as much as 10 percent less than when it was government-operated. In nearly every case, the cuts are
shouldered by rank-and-file workers, who have lost pension plans and thousands of dollars in wages
under privatization. Workers who do the same job at the few state-run residential juvenile programs start at
$22,571 a year — about $1,000 more in South Florida. By contrast, the Florida Juvenile Justice
Association, a trade group of state contractors, says the typical starting pay for workers at private centers
is $17,500 to $18,000 a year. Usually they work eight-hour shifts. But because contractors can be fined if
they don't have enough workers on duty, some employees work 16 hours straight if their replacements
don't show up. Everyone agrees that it takes a special type of person to handle the job. But most
companies either can't afford or aren't willing to pay for such people. The Post found that contractors hired
people whose recent work experience included stints at a doughnut shop, a turnpike tollbooth and a
grocery store. Some got jobs fresh off being fired by private security firms, while other new youth care
workers were still teenagers themselves. At Sarasota-based Correctional Services Corp.'s rural JoAnn
Bridges Academy, youth care workers start at $7.21 an hour, or $15,000 a year. The highest paid workers
at any Correctional Services Corp. program, Broward County's Thompson Academy, start at $8.89 an
hour. That's $18,500 a year in a county where the median annual rent tops $10,000. References often
don't reveal whole story. Left unmentioned are violent rages, suspicions of sex with teens and reports of
gross incompetence. Companies worry that if they break their silence, they could be sued for giving a
negative reference. As a result, supervisors at other juvenile facilities did not know that: •One employee
deliberately instigated a fight between teens, and another was fired after he took kids from a drug
treatment program to his home to smoke. •A youth care worker was fired from a Broward County facility for
threatening a fellow employee with a handgun; he was hired a month later at a center in Daytona Beach.
•Another missed a mandatory drug test because he was in jail for violating his probation. •Several others
were fired for allowing juvenile offenders to escape, and one for not even noticing a teen was gone. •One
fell asleep while guarding a girl on suicide watch. Because many private companies have either ignored or
were ignorant of the public records law, some have been forced to rely on personal references from
people such as pastors, even when the person admitted to knowing little about a potential employee. Some
fired employees got new juvenile justice jobs with recommendations from friends or co-workers who didn't
know or wouldn't say what really happened at a previous company. At least 138 juvenile justice workers
listed as active when their records were obtained by The Post previously had been arrested and punished
for felony charges ranging from credit card and check fraud to cocaine trafficking and burglary. Youth
counselor Wendell Campbell was found guilty of battery by an Okeechobee County circuit judge in October
2000, five months after he attacked a 19-year-old offender at the Eckerd Youth Development Center.
Witnesses told a sheriff's deputy that Campbell, 22 at the time, was upset because the young man told
Campbell to go to hell. Campbell, 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, grabbed the 5-foot-6, 136-pound offender by
the throat and pushed him against a wall. The teen's face turned blue, a co-worker said, as Campbell
choked him for almost 40 seconds. The case was documented in court, state and Eckerd's own records.
But two years later, Campbell was hired at the Okeechobee Redirection Camp, managed by the California-
based company Owl Global. Supervisors found the charge of battery during background checks and
received permission from the state to hire Campbell, said Geff Stinson, the company's human resources
director. But contractors still are not required to notify the state when they fire an employee. That means
that the state's juvenile justice agency, the only official watchdog of dozens of separate taxpayer-funded
contractors, doesn't know when or why former employees left each company. Without that basic
information, state officials cannot tell their contractors whether an applicant has been fired elsewhere.
Exacerbating those problems is that many companies must hire new employees often — and quickly. In
several cases, employees were hired and trained before the positive results of their drug tests or
background checks arrived. "There's tremendous pressure to fill vacant positions," said Mark Fontaine,
who represents private contractors as head of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association. The typical youth
care worker at a private company lasts less than eight months, according to an analysis of employment
data by The Post, and 62.5 percent will quit or be fired in any given year. Some of the worst churn has
been at the Florida Institute for Girls in suburban West Palm Beach. Since the facility opened in 2000, 82.1
percent of its workers have left before working a full year. Fontaine said he is not surprised that the annual
turnover rate is just 19.4 percent in Florida's government-run detention centers, where employees can
qualify for state pension plans and earn a yearly wage as much as $6,000 higher than at a private facility.
"I don't care who you work for," Fontaine said, "if you pay your people $6,000 more, you're going to get
more people working that you want working for you and fewer that you don't. That's just a fact." Lobbyists
for Florida's private juvenile treatment contractors have asked legislators for more money, saying they can
barely get by. But it is clear some of the companies don't always choose to spend every available dollar on
improving their centers. From 1999 to 2003, for example, the top three executives at Correctional Services
Corp. took home nearly $4.5 million in total combined compensation, according to documents filed with the
Securities and Exchange Commission. The company's founder, President and CEO James F. Slattery,
collected more than $2.2 million in salary, bonuses and other compensation in that time, an average of
$442,000 a year. Florida's top juvenile justice official, charged with overseeing the entire system of public
and private facilities, gets $115,000 a year. Correctional Services Corp. also spends generously when it
comes to making friends in Tallahassee. The company spent at least $270,000 on state campaign
contributions during the past decade, with company executives personally donating thousands more. From
1999 to 2003, the company generated revenue of $882 million from the prison and youth programs it runs
in Florida and other states but reported a net income of just $77,000. State officials say it isn't any of their
business what its taxpayer-funded contractors pay its workers or how much they spend on kids. "One of
the reasons we privatize is the theory that private corporations can do it better and cheaper than we may
be able to," said Steve Casey, the Juvenile Justice Department's deputy secretary. "So to a degree, we try
to stay out of that."  

December 27, 2002 Okeechobee News
CCA has decided not to protest the bid submitted by Securicor New Century to operate the Okeechobee
Juvenile Corrections Facility. Facility Administrator Curtis Ranum said the company made the decision
Monday after an attorney reviewed the bids submitted by Securicor and Youth Services International.  "A
letter has been sent to secretary (W.G. "Bill") Bankhead notifying him of the decision," Ranum said.  
Nashville, Tenn., - based CCA operates seven adult correction facilities in Florida.  Okeechobee is the only
juvenile facility CCA runs in the state.  Editor's Note:  Okeechobee News reporter Ed Copp is a member of
the CCA community  relations board.