Broward Public Defender Alleges Abuse at Juvie Lockup in West Palm Beach

Categories: Crime, Crime
Thompson cover image-thumb-200x214.jpg
The complaints echo similar allegations at Thompson Academy.
News at Florida's juvenile detention centers has not been good lately. At some state-run facilities, teenagers are allegedly being doped up on anti-psychotic drugs to control their behavior. At Thompson Academy, a privately run lockup in Pembroke Pines, the owners have settled a federal lawsuit alleging that a teenaged boy was twice sexually assaulted by a male counselor. Now, the Broward attorney who first raised concerns about Thompson Academy says his clients are being abused at another privately run lockup, this one in West Palm Beach.

One teenaged boy alleged he was punched in the face by a counselor who had been transferred to the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Center from Thompson Academy. Another boy saw maggots in a fellow inmate's chicken dinner, and other residents said a staffer encouraged them to fight one another.

"I started to hear the same exact stories. It's like Groundhog Day all over again," says
Broward Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes Jr., referring to the similarities between Thompson Academy and the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Center.

Youth Services International Inc. a Sarasota-based company, has state contracts to run Thompson Academy, the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, and six other juvie lockups in Florida.

Last fall, lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of teenagers who alleged that Thompson was a violent, frightening place. One former resident claimed he was sexually assaulted by a counselor, another said he was slammed into a wall and choked by a guard, while others said they were deprived of food and medical attention.

Attorneys for Youth Services International disputed the allegations, and the suit was settled a few weeks ago. Weekes, who represented some of the teenagers at Thompson, followed the case closely. Recently he visited other clients at the Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility to talk to them about the use of prescription drugs at the lockup, which houses 118 teenaged boys who are considered "high risk" offenders. The teenagers began telling him stories about violence, maggots in their food, and leaking toilets in their living quarters.

One teenager, whom Weekes did not name, said he was punched by a staffer, got a bloody nose, and was seen by the facility's nurse. The incident was not reported to the police or outside authorities. The staffer has since been transferred out of the lockup, Weekes said.

Weekes described the incident and his other concerns about the facility in a letter to the Department of Juvenile Justice last month. "In light of the serious issues raised against Youth Services International, Inc. at another program, I am not assured or comfortable in assuming these are isolated incidents," he wrote. "This facility needs to be immediately reviewed."

Samadhi Jones, a spokesperson for the agency, said the allegations are now under review.

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I was 17 when I went to Thompson Academy. Got there on 9/7/02, and didn't leave until 5/30/03. I never caused any real problems while there, but still was there for an extra few months. I really believe now it was because of the money.

I was smart while in TA, however, I wasn't as well versed in the street life as most of the other kids there. I took a few lumps at TA, from my peers, because I tried to fit in to a life that I simply didn't fit in to. However, for the MOST part, me and my peers saw eye-to-eye.

It wasn't until about my third month, we went on lockdown for what seemed like eternity. For really NO reason other than a few other "youths" acting out, our entire dorm [I was in the Lakes Building] went on lockdown. We all went from our "level" shirts, in to red shirts. Red meant "escape risk, high risk." Before and after school and all meals, while we were on the day room, we sat in chairs until the next activity. So after school we'd sit until dinner. Before school we sat until breakfast. This went on for a few weeks. I'd say a good three-four.

But magically when Q.A. [Quality Assurance. They are like the "Overseers" of Juvy Facilities. When they come in for their week or two, eveything changes in to DISNEY WORLD] came in, we were a little more laxed.

What's funny is that you guys did an article about a KEEP THE PEACE event. I'm willing to bet they did that when Q.A. was in town, or a week or two before. To "soften up the youths" so they wouldn't go complaining to Q.A. about the quality of life in there.

One time in the dining room, I witnessed a kid from Hollywood go toe to toe with a staff. The kid was asking for it, yes, but the staff seemed to "man up" on the youth, seemingly "challenging" him. Instead of just restraining the kid, or taking him out of the dining room, he made the kid continue to hulk up and then a much BIGGER staff blindsided the kid and they tag teamed him.

I was also in the Palm Beach Halfway House which apparently shut down soon after I left, which was in May of 2000. The same things happened there, only that place was only 20 kids so we got to "chill out" more.

There were reports of the Hendry Building, another "pod" totally disconnected from mine, having a bad ass staff member. This guy slammed a kid in to one of the metal bunkbeds, or crates where we kept clothes, and the kid's eye got really messed up. He had to go to the hospital.

In Jackson building, there were reports that it was the tough building. Staff allowed fights. But then, I remember Lakes building that I was in, started having all these problems. One time, a staff allowed two of my youth peers to "jump" another in the bathroom.

One night I got in to a fight, and magically there were NO STAFF in the hallway watching the rooms. I did not want to fight my peer. But he egged it on for what seemed like 30 minutes in my dark room. There were my five roommates, the kid, and about six others from the hall. Eventually I got mad enough and started slamming the kid around my room. Hoping it would cause enough noise and we wouldn't have to go to blows.

After a few slams, I let the kid go and his friends egged him on still. So I said forget it, let's take it to the bathroom where the lights are. We did. I ended up giving the kid about thirty knots on the top of his head. Directly after the fight, in the same bathroom, he was in a stall and spitting up and I went in there to rub his head and say "I'm sorry, I didn't want to fight". From there on we were cool again. [I came in to the Program the same time he did, and we were roomies for my first month or two.]

There were times when we did not get our 1 hour Rec. Which is STATE MANDATED.

Sometimes, we didn't get "snack". HAha, LOTS of times we didn't. Snack wasn't mandated, but still.

There were times when we'd only get like...5 minutes to eat. Sometimes shorter. And staff would literally throw youth's plates away.

I am sick and tired of youth crime in South Florida. But I think that for those of us who haven't gone OFF THE DEEP END, we deserve a chance in programs like these.

T.A. isn't even Moderate Risk. There weren't any locks on the doors. No barbwire. Escapes are easy. But why would kids escape a weak program like T.A.? Because of stupid workers.

I pray for the kids today -- who get in a little bit of minimal trouble -- but still get the shaft and have to go to SIX MONTH PROGRAMS.

Adult criminals get away with MUCH WORST STUFF, and at an OLDER AGE OF INTELLIGENCE. Yet, kids who may have done a dumb crime, just need a little direction, are sent away for SIX TO NINE MONTHS.

I hope we get it right.


This article is absurd! I am wondering when some agency will look into Mr. Weeke's behavior? My son was at this program, and he left it a different young man, with his diploma and much better coping skills. Where was Mr. Weekes when my son needed him in court and he sent a representative who knew nothing about my son or his case? Probably concocting these types of allegations for his own personal gain. Don't get it twisted - Mr. Weekes makes false promises of early release to tempt these youth into making the false accusations he wants to hear. A basic search of sanitation reports show that this facility passes with flying colors. Mr. Weekes should try and promote himself through hard work and integrity, not smear campaigns that get his name and photo in the paper.

A Satisfied Parent of DJJ.

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