A Miami Herald investigation that exposed savage and systemic abuses against youths in Florida’s juvenile justice system has rightly sparked judicial review.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle says she will ask a grand jury to probe conditions and practices in the state’s juvenile lockups. That’s a welcome pledge, and one that must be followed with action.
Grand juries act as the conscience of the community. The shocking revelations in the Herald’s Fight Club series demand accountability.
This probe should end the careers of public employees who were supposed to be caretakers but turned into state-paid abusers.
“Children and youth are the most vulnerable of all of us,” Fernández Rundle said at a news conference. “We have an inherent responsibility to them — to take care of them and protect their quality of life.”
True, except we sometimes fall down on the job.
The Herald investigation, led by reporters Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D. S. Burch, revealed a broad range of abuses and lapses in the system, including the hiring of youth workers with criminal records and histories of violence and even sexual misconduct.
The reporters obtained shocking security video of teens in detention encouraged by guards to beat each other up — a sort of outsourcing of discipline by staff.
Guards egged them on and rewarded them with snacks.
The series also highlighted the troubling history of medical neglect by officers, youth workers and even nurses assigned to youth programs.
In fact, the newspaper’s investigation was triggered by the 2015 death of Elord Revolte, a 17-year-old who had been detained on an armed robbery charge.
Elord was savagely beaten by a dozen peers. Why? He stood up without permission to get a milk carton.
Other teens later said an officer ordered the brutal attack. The officer denied it.
The state attorney’s office declined to press charges against both the youths who attacked Elord and the officer accused of inciting them. Not enough evidence to put a case together. The officer remains on the job.
The medical examiner, who ruled Revolte’s death a homicide, said he died of blunt force trauma to the head, neck and chest.
Now, this will be the third grand jury empaneled in the last 15 years to look into the state’s juvenile detention system.
In the past, grand juries have helped clean house at the DJJ.
In 2003, another grand jury brought down the agency’s top administrator and two dozen employees because their negligence allowed a teen to die of a burst appendix.
Grand juries — made up of average people assigned to laser-focus on a specific problem in a community — have recommend meaningful reform in issues like homelessness, police shootings and voter fraud.
The Miami Herald series will give them plenty of fodder.
Let’s hope it translates into substantive changes in the state’s juvenile justice system.