The Department of Juvenile Justice calls its philosophy “tough love.”
But a Miami Herald I-Team analysis of 10 years of seldom-seen records reveals an emphasis on the “tough.”
Documents, interviews and surveillance videos show a disturbing pattern of beatings doled out or ordered by underpaid officers, hundreds of them prison system rejects. Youthful enforcers are rewarded with sweet pastries from the employee vending machines, a phenomenon known as “honey-bunning.” The Herald found fights staged for entertainment, wagering and to exert control, sex between staff and youthful detainees and a culture of see-nothing/say-nothing denial.
Herald journalists also examined 12 questionable deaths of detained youths since 2000.
In the end, untold numbers of already troubled youths have been further traumatized.
With a one-year recidivism rate of 45 percent, it is a justice system that is supposed to reform juvenile delinquents, but too often turns them into hardened felons.
Tales from the Front
About The project
This project began shortly after 17-year-old Elord Revolte was beaten to death at the Miami juvenile lockup. Journalists were told the killing may have been orchestrated by an officer, what detainees called a “honey-bunning.”
Reporters secured data sets from four state agencies: the departments of Juvenile Justice, Children & Families, Financial Services and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The Herald analyzed 10 years of data covering use-of-force reports, child abuse investigations, DJJ inspector general investigations, law enforcement certification records, employee background screenings and lawsuit notices.
Guided by this data, reporters requested more than 600 incident reports, mostly detailing substantiated allegations of excessive or unnecessary force, inappropriate conduct with youths or medical neglect. The Herald then procured hundreds of completed investigations.
The FDLE records were merged with the hiring database to identify former guards and police officers now overseeing children.
Reporters reviewed an assortment of other DJJ records, including surveillance videos, victim and witness statements, inspections, letters from public defenders, personnel files and statements from employees.
Also reviewed: police, criminal and civil court records, FDLE arrest histories, prison records and autopsy reports.
Reporters interviewed DJJ administrators, administrators from other states, private providers, consultants, judges, prosecutors, defenders, lawyers, university professors and former youth workers, among others. Journalists traveled throughout the state, as well as to New York City.
Because the records involved juveniles, names and other identifiers were redacted. Public defenders, private defense attorneys, civil litigators and confidential sources helped link reporters with some former detainees.
These stories were produced with financial assistance from the National Health Journalism Fellowship, a program of the Center for Health Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in Los Angeles.
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