Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Detention Disorder; Juvenile Centers under Close Scrutiny after 4 Escapes in 4 Months

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Detention Disorder; Juvenile Centers under Close Scrutiny after 4 Escapes in 4 Months

Article excerpt

Byline: Garrett Pelican

Following four escapes in as many months, two local juvenile detention centers run by the same company will see more staff, some outside help from law enforcement and ratcheted up security.

G4S Youth Services, a Tampa-based company, is taking steps to deal with security problems at the facilities and prevent escapes, said Karl Knighten, state director for the company.

The company faces increased scrutiny from the Department of Juvenile Justice after the recent escapes from the Jacksonville Youth Academy and Hastings Youth Academy. Both facilities are under investigation.

"Unfortunately, it's one of those things that does happen and has happened. We take it seriously and we're taking all the measures we can to prevent it from happening again," Knighten said.

The state is conducting an escape review at the Jacksonville Youth Academy to identify what went wrong and what needs to be done, said department spokeswoman Heather DiGiacomo. Investigators are also trying to find out if all policies and procedures were followed.

An admissions freeze was imposed at Hastings, where investigators are monitoring if the staff is abiding by a corrective action plan ordered after several escapes there, DiGiacomo said. The plan calls for several changes, including more security when youths are outside, frequent head counts and more training.

The department did not release the outcomes or any preliminary findings from those incidents, citing the ongoing investigations. DiGiacomo said investigators, which are overseen by the inspector general's office, typically have at least 60 days to complete their reports. She said windows for providers to respond to those findings and the time it takes for results to be finalized varies depending on the type of review and the circumstances of each case.

"We work very diligently to ensure they are completed thoroughly and as quickly as possible," DiGiacomo said.

The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, which installed a portable guard tower and floodlights outside the Hastings facility last month, plans to help bolster security there by sending in K9 units for visits as frequently as twice a week to tour the grounds and "just to show the kids that they're there," said Cmdr. Scott Beaver.

The escapes have put residents on edge, said Beaver, noting he received numerous calls from people wondering what was being done about the security breaches. Some, he said, would like to see razor wire over the fence, as it was before the facility's commitment level was reduced.

"As soon as all of these new measures are put into place, Secretary Daly [Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly] and the G4S staff are going to open up the facility to the public to come in, check it out, make them feel safe and answer questions," said Beaver, who likened it to an open house.

DiGiacomo said G4S Youth Services would be held accountable if policy violations contributed to this month's Jacksonville escape, or should the company fail to live up to its pledge to address the security situation in Hastings. She said punitive actions could include the termination of staff and company's contracts.

"We use the incidents as a training method with all staff. Right now we're doing additional fidelity checks to ensure the corrective action plan is being followed," Knighten said.

The most recent escape happened June 18 at the Jacksonville facility on Lannie Road when three teens attacked and overpowered three staffers, swiped a set of keys they used to get out of the facility, then scaled an exterior fence and ran off, according to police. …

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