Okeechobee Juvenile CF
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
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
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.