5 Shocking Revelations About Hellish Private Juvenile Prisons and the Man Who Profits From Them

In a move to cut costs, states throughout the nation have turned to privatizing their prisons, including their juvenile detention centers. In a newly released investigation titled, "Prisoners of Profit: Private Prison Empire Rises Despite Startling Record of Juvenile Abuse," The Huffington Post’s Chris Kirkham reveals how the growing empire behind this move, Youth Services International (YSI), is continuing to expand despite a record of widespread abuse. Kirkham especially details the YSI’s involvement in Florida, where 100 percent of juvenile jails are privatized.

While reading the entire report is highly encouraged, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

1. Bad history continues

For the past 25 years, James F. Slattery, YSI’s owner and former owner other for-profit companies, has focused on the bottom line, while generating a huge record of neglect. From creating “welfare hotels” in the ’80s to halfway houses for federal prisoners in the ’90s, Slattery’s living spaces are known for their poor conditions and low-paid workers. Slattery eventually began contracting with the government to run juvenile detention centers. After a few name changes and a merge, YSI now makes hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts. In the past 20 years, more than 40,000 youth have gone through YSI’s facilities, which are wrought with unsanitary environments, physical abuse and sexual assault.

2. Cruel conditions

Kirkham begins his report with a story about an 18-year-old who attended a boot camp run by Slattery’s previous company, and died after being refused medical care for his pneumonia, which guards accused him of making up. Throughout the report, cruel conditions surface in just about every aspect of YSI’s operations. From slapping youth to fracturing their bones, YSI guards have a violent history with young inmates. Sexual assault is also rampant, with one YSI detention center in Georgia — out of more than 300 institutions surveyed — having the highest rate of youth alleging sexual assaults in the country. Detained youth also reported small food portions of undercooked food, including raw chicken and fly-ridden dishes. Meanwhile, the low-wage, poorly-trained, and high-turnover staff also contributes to these conditions, as they are unable to properly care for and work with these young inmates.

3. Poor records, more contracts

Kirkman writes that “Slattery’s for-profit prison enterprises have run afoul of the Justice Department and authorities in New York, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Texas for alleged offenses ranging from condoning abuse of inmates to plying politicians with undisclosed gifts while seeking to secure state contracts.” Yet, YSI still gains federal contracts. Part of the reason is their poor, and even forged, documentation. YSI has continuously failed to document serious incidents or pressured youth to not report their mistreatment — all while polishing up the documents it is required to submit. Angela Phillips, a former shift supervisor for a YSI juvenile detention center, told Kirkman evaluations were “a joke” and said, “The paperwork looked great, because someone was going around and spending overtime just to make sure that paperwork was correct. If there was something missing, they would just forge it.”

Another contributing factor is the systematic overlooked allegations. When a YSI staff member and an inmate have different stories concerning the abuse that took place, investigations are deemed “inconclusive.” This happens to three-quarters of all cases.

But even when there’s nowhere to hide from its dirt, YSI still comes out victorious because of government officials’ lack of interest in the matter. One Florida YSI facility rampant with abuse, had eight confirmed cases of child abuse in one year, while 96 percent of the staff had left the facility. All of this was clearly documented. The Department of Juvenile Justice, still, however, reinstated YSI’s contract, while firing the monitor who had reported the abuses taking place. Kirkman quoted a former Department of Juvenile Justice executive staffer who said, “They don’t want the providers to look bad, because they don’t have anyone else to provide this service. …Bottom line, the state of Florida doesn’t want responsibility for these kids.”

4. Playing politics

While the government continues to award Slattery contracts, Slattery continues to make sure he supports candidates who are fond of privatization. The report finds, for instance, that Slattery, his wife, and his companies’ other executives have donated more than $400,000 during Florida’s state elections, with $276,000 of that going toward Florida’s Republican party. Former Democratic Florida senator Dan Gelber was quoted in the Kirkman's report saying: “We regularly hire companies that have abysmal track records of performance, but great track records of political campaign contributions.”

5. Detrimental effects on youth

The privatization of juvenile prisons has had detrimental effects on youth, including high recidivism rates. Kirkman reports that 40 percent of youth offenders who serve time in Florida’s prisons commit a crime within a year of their release that places them back in jail. The review process on juvenile prisons, thus, fail to investigate the treatment and rehabilitation of youth. “Quality assurance is looking at contract adherence, whether they’re meeting the general terms of the contract, not the goals of the rehabilitation of the youth,” a public defender told Kirkman. “They do a cursory review of the youth. They look more at whether [the contractors] are record-keeping properly.” Since January, Florida has awarded YSI with three more contracts.  

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.