Guards Offer Snack Bounty To Beat Up 13-Year-Old Boy In DetentionThink Progress
July 20, 2016
A juvenile detention center in Fort Lauderdale is under fire for offering food as a reward for beating up a teenager in its custody. (link)
A 13-year-old identified as A.R. was hospitalized for three weeks after staff at the Broward Juvenile Detention Center offered a "snack bounty" in exchange for beating him up. After A.R. was struck on the head by another teenager, staff left him in a solitary room that was scrubbed with bleach. Inhaling the toxic fumes, A.R. suffered a near-fatal asthma attack that landed him in the hospital. But his mother, Shantell McNair, wasn't informed about the incident until her son was released 21 days later.
According to Gordon Weekes, the chief public defender of Broward County, A.R. is one of many abuse victims locked away at the detention facility. In a recent letter to the Department of Juvenile Justice, Weekes wrote that at least one kid was shackled and left in a scorching hot van for hours. He also reported that kids are living in a building that wreaks of sewage, which could be the result of toxic chemicals in the facility. Guards also assaulted the boys and denied them urgent medical care in the past.
Weekes believes many of the problems boil down to too few staff and not enough resources to manage so many people.
"They're frustrated, they're tired, and it's a recipe for disaster when you have an overworked staff working with kids who have issues," he told the Broward Palm Beach New Times. "The staff are overworked and underpaid, and as a result they have a short fuse."
But the detention center isn't unique in its treatment of detainees. Broward County as a whole has a well-documented history of abuses in its juvenile facilities. At the nearby Broward Academy for Girls, staff withheld food, sanitary items, and soap from youth in their care. Prior to shutting down in 2013, the Thompson Academy treated food as a reward for good behavior. Youth were beaten, sexually assaulted, denied sleep, and forced to fire their attorneys by staff.
Similar abuses persist statewide.
Last year, Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) announced that the number of young people arrested in 2015 was the lowest since 1984, yet the system is still rife with problems.
More juveniles end up in Florida's adult court and prison systems than they do in every other state, which means they're routinely denied rehabilitative services that they'd otherwise receive in juvenile facilities. The vast majority of youth in this position are nonviolent offenders charged with drug or property crimes, and juveniles in Florida can be sentenced to life without parole for crimes other than murder. Before lawmakers partnered with educators to reduce the number of school-based arrests beginning in 2013, Florida also had one of the largest school-to-prison pipelines in the country, with kids arrested and locked up for disciplinary infractions as minor as food fighting and wearing the wrong clothes.
Broward County was one of the first in the state to commit to fixing the pipeline, but if A.R.'s experience at the Broward Juvenile Detention Center is any indication, kids who do wind up in the system are subjected to inhumane treatment.
"I've been dealing with this place for years, and every day it's something new," Weekes said. "It's like Whack-a-Mole. You get them to address one problem, and four other problems come up."