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Youth jails rate well despite ills

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.

"I think it's clear some are more important than others when it comes to protecting kids and it comes to protecting the state," she said.

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.

The Pinellas Regional Juvenile Detention Center received a commendable rating. The same month the review took place, a teen inmate died in a fight with a rival, and a state investigation showed the center's employees violated state policies, including failing to adequately supervise the youths.