Despite Alleged Sex Assaults, State Officials Give Thompson Academy Passing Grade

By Lisa Rab, Mon., Dec. 6 2010 @ 1:37PM

Despite allegations that teenagers were physically and sexually assaulted while living there, Thompson Academy in
Pembroke Pines has received high marks from state officials.

In October 2009, the for-profit juvenile detention center received a "commendable performance" grade on a quality
assurance review conducted by investigators from the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

This November, after a federal lawsuit was filed alleging various forms of abuse -- including one 15-year-old who said
he was twice sexually assaulted by a staff member -- state officials returned to see if the good grade should stand.

At a facility that houses 145 teenage boys, the officials reviewed a small sample of information. They examined six
case management and medical files, conducted "three youth and three staff surveys," and did "several informal
interviews with youth, staff and management personnel," according to a summary report.

When the review was finished, the investigators decided Thompson should retain its "deemed status," meaning it has
an overall performance rating of 80 percent or higher.

In the lawsuit, five teenagers allege they were undernourished, assaulted by staff members, threatened, or denied
access to their attorneys. Yet none of these complaints are mentioned in the state's review report. That's because the
annual review is separate from any criminal investigation of abuse allegations, says Department of Juvenile Justice
spokesperson Samadhi Jones.

"They're totally different functions," Jones says. "We would still have to conduct our normal business to ensure that
we're monitoring their performance."

The Department of Juvenile Justice will wait until law enforcement has completed its investigation of the abuse claims
before launching its own investigation, she adds.


Despite Alleged Sex Assaults at Thompson Academy, State Not Investigating Other Lockups

By Lisa Rab

A lawsuit filed earlier this month accuses the operator of Thompson Academy, a juvenile detention facility in
Pembroke Pines, of turning a blind eye to sexual assaults, physical abuse, and intimidation of its young residents by
staff members.

The Pembroke Pines police, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ)
are all conducting investigations into the allegation that one 15-year-old boy was twice forced to have oral sex with a
staff member at Thompson.

But what about the seven other facilities that operator Youth Services International runs in Florida, including Broward
Girls Academy in Pembroke Pines?

A DJJ spokesman says those lockups are not getting any extra scrutiny. "No allegation against any other YSI facility
has been made, and therefore there would be no reason to investigate any other facility," says Samadhi Jones,
spokesperson for the department.

That sounds reasonable enough, until you read the gruesome details of the alleged assaults. They paint a picture of
a harrowing detention center, where the teenager's complaint about abuse was ignored -- until it happened again.

According to the lawsuit, a Thompson staffer first cornered the 15-year-old, identified only as D.B., in the laundry
room in March. Grabbing his own crotch, the staffer asked the boy, "Are you going to suck it?"

D.B refused, but the staffer forced him to comply. Afterward, D.B. spit the evidence into a rag. He then brought the
rag to another staff member he trusted and told her about the incident. The next day, Craig Ferguson, administrator
of the academy, allegedly told D.B. not to mention the incident to anyone.

Months passed, and the staffer accused of assault continued working at the academy. In August, the staffer escorted
D.B. to a dentist's appointment off campus. This time, the staffer trapped D.B. in the bathroom and would not let the
teenager leave until he gave him oral sex, according to the suit.

Now that the suit has been filed, D.B. has been released from custody and the staff member accused of assault has
been removed from contact with children, a YSI official told the Miami Herald.

That's comforting, but without a state investigation, who's to say similar incidents aren't occurring at other lockups?


Owner of Pembroke Pines Juvie Lockup Has Checkered History
By Lisa Rab, Wed., Oct. 27 2010

A recent lawsuit alleging sexual assault and physical abuse of inmates at the Thompson Academy juvenile detention
center in Pembroke Pines is the latest in a string of abuse accusations lodged against the facility's owner.

For-profit prison operator Youth Services International, based in Sarasota, was once a subsidiary of Correctional
Services Corp. (CSC). James Slattery, former CEO of Correctional Services, is now president of Youth Services. And
Slattery has been making sordid headlines in the private prison industry for more than two decades. In facilities for
immigrants and children, complaints keep surfacing.

Here's how the left-leaning magazine In These Times described Slattery and his company
in 2004:

Founded in 1989 by Morris Esmor and James Slattery, who ran an infamously decrepit welfare hotel in New York,
CSC initially was involved in operating halfway houses for the state. Then known as Esmor, the company rose to
prominence when detainees at a federal detention center for undocumented immigrants in Elizabeth, New Jersey,
rioted over deplorable living conditions and abuse by guards. Shortly after, the Immigration and Naturalization
Services (INS), ICE's predecessor, closed the detention center and terminated its contract with Esmor--which then
changed its name to CSC and moved its headquarters to Florida.

Correctional Services quickly established a record in Florida that was less-than-stellar. The company ran a facility in
Pahokee that was a national embarrassment, where teens were imprisoned simply to increase profit margins. As the
Palm Beach Post reported:

The Pahokee Youth Development Center, began in 1997 with 350 kids and quickly became a nationally-known
example of what not to do.  State investigators uncovered chaos, abuse and fights. The for-profit contractor that ran
the center, Correctional Services Corp., admitted it held teens beyond the time they were supposed to be released so
they could bill the state for more money.

Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a 15-year-old boy who alleges he was twice
sexually assaulted by a staff member at Thompson Academy. Yet state officials have told New Times they are not
investigating conditions at any of the seven other juvenile detention centers Youth Services runs in Florida. Why are
they giving the company the benefit of the doubt?


Former Thompson Academy Administrator Was Arrested for DUI
By Lisa Rab, Wed., Mar. 2 2011 @ 12:08PM
Categories: Broward, Crime, Education, Law & Order

Three years ago, signs of trouble began to emerge at the privately run Thompson Academy juvenile detention center
in Pembroke Pines.

Gordon Weekes, head of the juvenile division at the Broward Public Defender's Office, wrote a letter complaining that
his clients there were showing up with "chipped teeth, deep cuts, and other injuries from fighting," the Sun-Sentinel
reported at the time.

Four boys had escaped and been returned to the lockup by March 2008, and the state Department of Children and
Families received 23 complaints to its child abuse hotline from the facility that year.

In February 2008, Thompson's top administrator, Duane Evans, was arrested and charged
with driving drunk and fleeing the scene of an accident. Yet he was not immediately fired.

"He's done an excellent job for us," Jesse Williams, senior vice president of Youth Services International, the company
that runs the lockup, told the Sun-Sentinel.

By the following June, Evans had pleaded no contest to a reduced, misdemeanor charge of DUI. He was sentenced to
a year of probation, and Youth Services eventually replaced him with a new administrator, Rodney Pegram. By
January 2010, Thompson had hired yet another administrator, Craig Ferguson.

But the allegations of violence at the facility continued. Last year, 13 reports of abuse were called into the state
hotline from Thompson. Law enforcement officials investigated but confirmed only one incident where abuse occurred
-- a 14-year-old boy whose arm was broken while he was restrained by guards.

This fall, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit alleging that teenaged boys at the lockup are being
physically and sexually abused. Youth Services has argued in court documents that the plaintiffs have provided no
evidence of "actual injury." The case is scheduled for trial in June.