1. Hernando

State investigating after two more teens escape from Brooksville juvenile justice facility

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Dormitories #1 and #2, named the Ravens and Lions dorms, respectively, house 20 teen boys who attend Brooksville Academy, a school within the Center for Success and Independence, a Brooksville-based clinical treatment campus owned and operated by Youth Opportunity Investments, which partners with state and county juvenile justice and child welfare systems to treat at-risk youth as an alternative to punitive measures. Brooksville Academy currently works with 42 male teens who have been court-ordered to live at the non-secure residential commitment program that provides therapeutic services to address behavioral, mental health and substance abuse issues.
Published Jul. 24

BROOKSVILLE — The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is conducting an escape review and investigating security procedures after two more teens escaped from a Brooksville juvenile justice facility, bringing the total to four escapes in less than 30 days.

The most recent escape happened Saturday at the Center for Success and Independence - Brooksville Academy off Culbreath Road south of Brooksville, when a 17-year-old and 15-year-old ran away. They were outside for recreation time, a Hernando County Sheriff's office spokesperson said, and went into the nearby forest before facility staffers could stop them.

The pair returned about eight hours later on their own, according to the Sheriff's Office.

They were arrested and transported to the Hernando County jail. The 17-year-old originally faced charges of possession intent to sell a controlled substance. The 15-year-old faced charges of battery, criminal mischief and violation of probation.

On June 25 , a 16-year-old and 15-year-old fled the facility while walking from the cafeteria to their dormitories. The pair was found and arrested on new charges of grand theft auto three days later in Martin County.

"We recognize that the community has concerns," said Juvenile Justice spokesperson Amanda Slama. "We are responsible for public safety, as well. We hold our contract providers accountable if we find failures."

Day-to-day operations in the facility are contracted to Youth Opportunity Investments, a private organization based in Carmel, Ind., that manages juvenile facilities nationwide. It operates four non-secure Florida facilities.

The Brooksville center houses up to 60 males ages 13 to 18, according to the Juvenile Justice website. It is intended for offenders who pose a low or moderate risk to public safety and have been accused of crimes such as theft or burglary. Still, the site says, they require close supervision.

There is no fence around the Brooksville facility, Slama said, but the dorms, cafeteria and other buildings are locked and prevent the young men from leaving. When moving from building to building, staffers escort them, and recreation time is supervised.

"We place the security of the community of high priority for all of our decisions," said Youth Opportunity Investments chief legal officer Gary Sallee. "We believe we're the best in the industry."

The Sheriff's Office has not received reports of violence by escaped teens, Sheriff Al Nienhuis said in a statement.

"Since the juveniles housed there are often from other parts of the state, it stands to reason that the juveniles who escape are more concerned with getting out of the area than anything else," he said.

The Brooksville Academy is not the only Youth Opportunity Investments facility that has had recent escapes. Three teens were arrested July 5 after they fled the Mansfield Juvenile Treatment Center in Mansfield, Ark., according to reporting in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Youth Opportunity Investments took over the facility as a part of an Arkansas state contract to privatize its juvenile justice system, according to the Democrat-Gazette.

The Brooksville center was run by Eckerd Connects before Youth Opportunity Investments took over in September 2018.

The school within the Brooksville facility has been run by the Hernando County School District since December, but ultimately the Department of Juvenile Justice is responsible for overseeing the facility's security procedures, School District spokesperson Karen Jordan said.

"The limits of our responsibility are to educate those students," Jordan said.

She said she hopes the state will implement procedures to prevent another escape.


  1. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2018) Hernando County School District office, 919 N Broad St., Brooksville
    Hernando County debates the pros and cons of superintendent John Stratton’s recommendation.
  2. The 53rd-annual Rattlesnake Festival will be held Oct. 19-20 at the Pasco County Fairgrounds in Dade City. The weekend event, kicks off with a prelude concert featuring the Bellamy Brothers on Friday, and raises money for the Thomas Promise Foundation. The foundation provides meals for Pasco County school children who do not have regular access to nutritional meals on weekends when school is not in session. "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The annual festival offers a family-friendly outing while raising money to feed school children in need.
  3. Lynn Cristina is a Wesley Chapel momma with two girls and works full time as a marketing manager. Courtesy of Lynn Cristina
    Dad’s car is a spotless, no-fun zone. As primary chauffeur, my car is the kitchen, playroom, storage container and sometimes even the minute clinic.
  4. Mama is available for adoption. Hernando County Animal Services
    Hernando County shelter pet offerings
  5. Hernando County School District
    Local officials’ requests for legislators also include sewer project funding and teacher bonus reforms.
  6. Kathleen Hudak, historian with the Brooksville Cemetery, tells the story of William Henry, son of Mr. and Mrs. Quitman Varn during a walking tour of the historic Brooksville Cemetery on Tuesday as part of Brooksville's Founders' Week celebration. The boy died from appendicitis in 1913 at the  age of 9. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
  7. ANGELIQUE HERRING   |   Times
From left to right, Racheal Shaefer, Victoria Asencio and FLG X guide Jessica Seitz watch and encourage Ashley Concepcion, top center, as she starts out on the first course at FLG X on July 5 in Brooksville. With four courses ranging in difficulty, the adventure park previously called "Treeumph!" officially reopened with a charity event benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County. HERRING, ANGELIQUE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Hernando County commissioners want to encourage the park operator to buy the property.
  8. A Hernando County Sheriff's deputy talks to students in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. Earlier this month, the school district put forward a proposal to move away from a contract with the Sheriff and establish its own police force. On Tuesday, it announced it would drop that idea.
    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis spoke out this week against the proposal.
  9. Hernando County community news Tara McCarty
    Letters to the editor from Hernando County
  10. The traffic signal for eastbound traffic on Drew Street at McMullen-Booth Road in Clearwater. Image by Archive
    A reader wonders why the sign at the end of Bayside Bridge instructs trucks heading north to exit during specified hours rather than stay on the bridge.