If Florida were a country, international human rights organizations would be responding with appropriate indignation — and demanding an investigation — of the outrageous abuses unearthed by a Miami Herald investigation of the state’s juvenile prisons.
This state, on the other hand, reacts with silence and denial to documented cases of horrific mistreatment of incarcerated youth — patterns of behavior behind closed doors and across the state that have ended in death and injury to youth. With some refreshing exceptions, this state and its Republican leadership don’t find the abuse of young people, and the criminal acts of those in charge of protecting them, worthy of their attention.
We’re talking about sexual abuse, neglect, beatings, and staffers who set up fights between youths — and bet on them. Plus, cover-ups, lots of those, all of it thoroughly documented in the year-long Miami Herald investigation, “Fight Club: Dark Secrets of Florida’s Juvenile Justice System.”
Among the findings of the six-part series: “widespread use of unnecessary and excessive force; officers and youth workers who outsource discipline by appointing goons; a high degree of sexual misconduct by staff, some of which goes unreported; and the propensity of employees to neglect the medical needs of teens, often calling them fakers.”
Yet, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is denying that there’s systemic abuse of juveniles in state custody, particularly in the private for-profit facilities to whom Florida shamelessly subcontracts justice and fails to adequately supervise.
“I stand before you today to say that what is printed in the Miami Herald is not representative of what this system is,” Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina K. Daly said Wednesday before a meeting of the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. “This system is made up of thousands of dedicated staff who come to work every day to care for children and to take everything that we need to do to change the lives of these children.”
Boosterism is the state’s defense, but there’s a huge gap between theory and results. How can Daly solve a problem she doesn’t even recognize?
Let me put this human-rights issue in language South Florida understands:
If the report had been about juvenile prisons in Cuba, you can bet every single Cuban-American Republican lawmaker — local, state and federal — would be up in arms about it. But I hear only the lonely voice of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, who raised questions about the state’s dependence on private contractors for something as critical as what are supposed to be youth rehabilitation programs, not grooming grounds for adult criminals.
If the brutal and ugly truth about youth incarceration in Florida were documented in Cuba, you can bet that Scott, incarnated into a new international persona for a 2018 Senate run, would come out of his silent cave and join the choir chastising that bad, nasty, human rights-violating government of the Castros.
But when it comes to Florida, the conditions of prisons — even those that house young people — are a “liberal” issue.
Dominated by ultra-conservative Republican politics long before there was a Trump in the White House, the state has privatized justice, leaving youthful offenders at the hands of cheaply run enterprises inadequately supervised and run by staffers who are often criminals themselves.
Not that the state-run facilities where youth workers get paid $12.25 an hour are models to uphold. The problems unveiled in the examination of 10 years of records and 12 questionable deaths are widespread throughout the state — and merit the full attention of the governor and the Legislature.
The state’s silence and denial only show how people in government feel entitled to not being held accountable.
Florida lawmakers aid and abet them by passing legislation that seeks to close the public records that reveal wrong-doing, ineptitude, and malaise.
People naively think rampant abuse only happens in Third World countries.
But own this one.
This, too, is Florida, where young people are left by the state in the hands of the unscrupulous to supposedly rehabilitate.