Regardless of the offense they may have committed, a juvenile confined in a youth detention center has a smaller voice than an incarcerated adult. When the people in their care grossly violate the code of conduct, youth offenders often become victims. They may not be fully aware that there is a problem or they may fail to report misconduct for fear of retaliation by the person in charge of their care. Thus, when a juvenile correctional facility hires former prison guards and staff to monitor youth offenders, hiring managers should have a clear picture of the candidate’s background. Unfortunately, at many youth facilities throughout the state, that is not the case.
DJJ Puts Criminals In Charge of Youth Offenders
On paper, one woman who had worked as a mental health technician at a psychiatric hospital for adult inmates seemed to have what it takes to work with teens at the Okeechobee Youth Development Center. She had three years of experience working with offenders whose mental states prevented them from facing trial or punishment for their crimes. There was just one indication that should have invited further scrutiny — on her application, it was reported that her job loss was “involuntary.” The Okeechobee Youth Development Center hired her without looking into her past.
Seventy-six days later, a boy in her care reported that this woman had had romantic dinners with him, shown him pornographic images of herself, and had had carnal relations with him on in the bathroom. Had the hiring manager dug a bit deeper into her history, he would have discovered that she was booted from her prior position due to having an “inappropriate relationship” with a patient at the psychiatric hospital. During the Miami Herald’s investigation of Florida youth detention centers, they uncovered several more shocking stories of inappropriate conduct between youth care workers and the children under their watch.
Another youth care worker in Duval had been arrested for beating a disabled man under his care at a former prison. Yet another had a 11 prior arrests, including arrests for violent crimes. The Avon Park Youth Academy gave him a uniform and salary. He worked for two years before the facility let him go after three detainees accused him of whipping them with a broomstick.
Other workers were accused of groping fellow workers, “nut tapping” or punching the testicles of detainees, and other inappropriate sexual conduct. In many instances, unfit workers had been hired because they had “met the statutory requirement for hiring,” meaning they had never been convicted of a “disqualifying offense.” Over 350 workers were under investigation for wrongdoing at a previous facility.
Upcoming Changes in Hiring Practices
The DJJ scrambled to change their hiring practices at the conclusion of this investigation. In April 2017, the Chief of Human Resources sent a memo stating “for all direct care positions, when a candidate has worked for a state agency, a copy of their file must be requested or an official file review must be performed, before they can be considered for employment.” Shortly thereafter, an additional directive required screeners to possess all records regarding their performance at previous establishments, such as disciplinary actions and performance reviews. This must be done before extending an offer for a position with the DJJ.
What Should I Do if My Child Has Been Arrested?
Not all youth offenders end up in the juvenile justice system. Your child may have several options available to him depending on the nature of his alleged offense. Particularly if it is a first offense, he may be able to enter a diversion program to avoid ending up in a youth detention center. If your child has recently been arrested, it’s in your best interest to work with an established criminal defense lawyer in West Palm Beach who has experience fighting juvenile charges. Talk to Brian Gabriel by calling 561-622-5575 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.