One of Florida’s most egregious child abusers is the agency that’s supposed to rehabilitate troubled youths: the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), reports the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper says DJJ is responsible for 661 confirmed cases of abuse or neglect since 1994. Nearly two-thirds of those cases occurred in the past four years. Since 1998, at least six boys died from injuries suffered at juvenile-justice facilities; investigators blame only two on abuse and neglect.
During the past few months, the agency has faced a grand-jury probe, a legislative inquiry and public outrage because employees did nothing to save a 17-year-old boy who suffered an agonizing death from appendicitis. It has lost more than a dozen employees, including its top two officials, who have taken leaves of absence.
A Sentinel investigation found records showing cases of abuse and neglect throughout the statewide network of about 200 lockups, boot camps, residential facilities, and other programs. Records point to an agency that cannot control its employees or those of the dozens of private companies it pays to run field operations. Last year those privately run programs — most of them long-term residential facilities — were the source of 80 percent of the department’s abuse and neglect cases.
C. George Denman, acting secretary at juvenile justice, acknowledges the department must change. “Any time we have one confirmed case of child abuse, it bothers us,” said Denman. “The higher the numbers go, the worse it is.”
The agency is home to about 8,500 juveniles, ages 11 to 18, who have broken the law. They are held from a few months to more than a year.