Florida hired Sara Erin Martin to oversee troubled teens at the Okeechobee Youth Development Center despite the fact that she said she was fired from her previous job. She lasted 76 days, until a boy told authorities a shocking story about Martin, complete with romantic takeout dinners, naked cellphone pictures, a butterfly or dragonfly tattoo, a blue sex toy and carnal assignations on the bathroom floor, reports the Miami Herald, continuing an investigation of Florida’s juvenile justice system. The employees who enforce rules, dole out discipline, offer guidance, and help decide how long some teenagers must remain locked up are the foundation of the youth correctional system. Some have backgrounds, and even criminal records, little better than the youths they supervise.
A cursory dig into Martin’s record would have shown she’d been ousted from the prior job for an “inappropriate relationship” with a detainee. Another neon warning sign is workers who, in the past, committed disturbing crimes. Child abusers, murderers and rapists have committed “disqualifying offenses” and aren’t supposed to work with vulnerable youths. The details sometimes get lost when offenders plead guilty to lesser offenses that aren’t disqualifying. Juvenile justice administrators acknowledge that, for years, they haven’t bothered to look for the details. The Herald found that Florida’s youth corrections programs are sprinkled with hundreds of staffers who were jettisoned by the adult prison system or staffs at local jails but welcomed by institutions looking after incarcerated youths. Some had short-lived second-chance stints. Others remain on the job. An examination of the databases identified about 350 former guards or law enforcement officers who were hired after being terminated — or allowed to resign while under investigation — for wrongdoing.