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Juvenile jails rate well despite problems

Published Aug. 27, 2005

Some of Florida's juvenile justice programs are receiving acceptable scores from state reviewers despite reports of violence, sex and death within their walls and potentially placing youth offenders at risk, according to a legislative study.

The report makes particular note of the 100-bed Florida Institute for Girls, which received an "acceptable" rating though a Palm Beach County grand jury is investigating a host of problems such as sexual relationships between guards and detainees and girls whose arms were broken while being subdued.

Good ratings in administrative areas outweighed a failing grade in behavior management, and the overall score did not "accurately reflect the potential danger the program posed to youth," according to the report, reviewed by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center also received an acceptable rating, four months after a 17-year-old inmate Omar Paisley died from a burst appendix after receiving inadequate medical care. A recent grand jury report indicted two nurses contracted to the facility and made broad criticisms of the facility.

Kathy McGuire, criminal justice staff director for the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, which assesses the effectiveness of state programs for the state Legislature, said her office suggested juvenile programs should be required to pass the critical safety and well-being standards to pass the overall review.

Frank Alarcon, deputy secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, said the department has started cross-checking a facility's annual review with its incident reports, to ensure facilities that are reporting significant problems are not scoring well on reviews.

UF student fends off attack on dorm stairs

GAINESVILLE _ A man accused of attacking a University of Florida student in the stairwell of her residence hall over the weekend remained held on $50,000 bail Sunday.

Travis David Latner, 26, of Newberry was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated battery early Saturday morning and taken to the Alachua County jail. It could not be determined Sunday whether he had a lawyer.

The unidentified student returned to the dorm and heard someone knocking on an outside door, police said. She let in the man outside, mistakenly thinking she knew him.

She was beginning to climb a set of stairs when the man attacked her from behind, grabbing her throat, the police report said. She turned and punched him repeatedly in the stomach until he backed away. That's when she saw a small knife in his right hand, according to the report.

Police arrived shortly after the reported attack, and used the victim's description of her attacker to arrest Latner, who she positively identified, officials said.

Thieves collecting Naples lawn art

NAPLES _ A string of statue thefts from the lawns of upscale homes has left both the art collectors and investigators baffled, especially considering the brazen manner in which thieves pulled off some of the heists.

Over a seven-month span, thieves have taken 16 sculptures, some worth up to $18,000 and in some cases swiped in the middle of the day.

Naples is a prime target for art thieves, given its stature as a haven for collectors. In December 2002 thieves broke into a multimillion dollar beachfront home and stole two French impressionist-era paintings with a combined value of nearly $7-million.

Investigators are trying to determine if the 16 statues _ some standing several feet high and heavy structures made of bronze, often secured by thick bolts to stone bases _ have been sold to traveling antique shows, shipped abroad for resale or simply eyed by unscrupulous collectors who masterminded the thefts.

No leads have proven solid.

Anne Abernathy's $16,000, 5{-foot-high bronze sculpture of a ballerina was in her yard one morning, then gone just a few hours later. She was one of the first victims of the stealing spree, losing her sculpture on July 18.

"It was stolen right in broad daylight. I think it was terribly bold," she said.