Grand Jury: Department of Juvenile Justice facility should be shut down

Employees allegedly poorly trained and paid

BARTOW, FL - A grand jury report calls the Highlands Youth Academy a "rip off" for citizens, that poorly serves children and should be shut down.

The Polk County Sheriff and State's Attorney's Office held a joint press conference on the presentment On Monday.

“It is a miserable failure down there,” said Polk County Attorney Grady Judd, speaking of the Highlands Youth Academy, formerly known as the Avon Park Youth Academy.

Judd and State's Attorney Jerry Hill didn't pull any punches today discussing a grand jury report regarding Highlands Youth Academy, which is operated by private contractor G4S under a Department of Juvenile Justice contract.

A 2013 riot sparked the original investigation.

More than 150 law enforcement agents were called to break up a fight. That fight started over a bet involving the payment of cups of noodles to the winner of a basketball game.

60 people were arrested, several people were hurt and it caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. 

Months later, there was an escape at that facility by an adult convicted felon who was still serving his time there.

The man snuck away while G4S employees were breaking up another fight.

“They're in a non-secured environment. They're not even locked up by DJJ for their programming. They can walk away. They don't have to be reported to us for two hours,” said Judd.  

The grand jury report says employees there are told not to call law enforcement when attacked and are poorly paid and trained.

“They make 8 to 10 dollars an hour to watch these kids,” said Hill.

According to the report, G4S expects to make $800,000 in profit from that facility. 

The DJJ tells the I-Team it has made several improvements at the facility, including having security cameras installed, decreasing the program size, increasing the staff to youth ratio and spending $2 Million on facility improvements.

But Hill and Judd don't believe that's enough.

“These things have been years in the making and now since this presentation came out in the last couple of weeks they're fixed it all? To suggest I’m skeptical is an understatement,” said Hill.

Hill says he's sent a copy of the presentment to Gov. Rick Scott and plans to contact Attorney General Pam Bondi and key legislators about making reforms to DJJ as soon as possible.

If you have a story you think the I-Team should investigate, contact us at

Here is G4S’s response to the Grand Jury Presentment:


On June 26th, the jurors of Polk County returned a Presentment relating to the investigation of Highlands Youth Academy. It appears that the Presentment is focused on the jurors’ understanding of the policies and procedures of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (the “DJJ”) and perceived differences between DJJ policies and procedures and those of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Polk County Jail system. Based on the investigation of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of the State Attorney Jerry Hill, the jurors appear to prefer the policies and procedures of the local jail system over the policies and procedures of the DJJ. In order to argue that case, the Presentment focused part of its investigation on Highlands Youth Academy. Highlands Youth Academy was previously named Avon Park Youth Academy and has been operated by its current management since 1998.

We acknowledge the work conducted by the Grand Jury; however, the Presentment includes multiple factual errors and misstatements. The purpose of this response is to set the record straight.

We did not bring a legal challenge to the findings because we welcome the opportunity to discuss G4S's role in juvenile justice, the work we have done at HYA, and the opportunity in an open and public forum to address the many misconceptions and factual inaccuracies that were included in the Presentment. We have great respect for the people of Florida and Polk County and did not want to do anything to question the motives or undermine the credibility of the citizens of Polk County. Further, under the associated rules, we could only reply to the specific findings. We are confident that the facts we are making public in our statement are accurate and paint a correct picture of the true workings of HYA and the good work we do there.

“What we have discovered at the Highlands Youth Academy simply cannot be what our Legislature and state leaders have intended for our juvenile justice system.”

The Legislature has stated its intent with regard to the juvenile justice system in Chapter 985.01, Florida Statute which in part states the following:

To provide for the care, safety, and protection of children in an environment that fosters healthy social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development; to ensure secure and safe custody; and to promote the health and well-being of all children under the state’s care.




 On September 14, 2013 Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was quoted in the Sebring News Sun as saying that the Avon Park Youth Academy (now known as the Highlands Youth Academy) was a “great program.” We concur that it was a great program then and continues to be one now, and reflects in every respect what the Florida Legislature intended a juvenile justice program to be.


“They are in a serious state of disrepair. Interior walls are often unpainted plywood and bunk beds within the small rooms built within are dilapidated. Paint is old, flaking, and peeling. Several structures have roof damage and water intrusion that dates to the 2004 hurricanes that devastated our county. Sanitary facilities are aged, unclean, and in poor repair.”

“We note that two housing units did begin undergoing renovations in May 2015, after the Sheriff and our Adviser began to investigate.”

The Highlands Youth Academy campus and its buildings were constructed over 60 years ago to provide housing for noncommissioned officers and their families on the Air Force Base. The use of the buildings as a residential treatment facility means that existing infrastructure shows more wear and tear by comparison with institutional buildings constructed for that purpose.



§ The interior walls are constructed of wood (T111) for durability. The trim is retouched, as needed; however; these particular units are consistent with the renovation plan currently underway.

§ In December 2013 the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and the provider initiated discussions with architects and engineers to create a campus-wide renovation plan that would be conducive to the treatment modality, while maintaining the security and safety of Highlands Youth Academy. These plans were delayed due to issues with water pressure and fiber optic installations. The construction ultimately started on April 7, 2015.

§ The bunk beds were removed in January 2014 and replaced with steel beds in all rooms occupied by youth.



§ Roof replacements from the hurricanes of 2004 began immediately after the hurricanes with units 3 and 16 (those impacted).

§ In 2010 – 2011 the roofs of units 17, 18, 19, and 20 were replaced, as part of routine major maintenance.

§ In 2013, the roofs of units 4, 5 and 6 were replaced, again as part of routine major maintenance.

§ None of the buildings currently housing youth are covered in blue tarp.

§ The buildings that were covered with blue tarp during the Grand Jury visit were staff offices, the medical unit, and the storage unit. These roofs were replaced in 2015.


“The medical building has the remnants of blue tarpaulin on its roof dating from 2004, and is one of the buildings with obvious water damage.”

This is incorrect. The remnants of blue tarp on the medical unit were from a more recent storm in 2015. The medical roof was last covered in February 2015. As a result of the most recent storms, the tarp began to wear off. The roof has since been replaced.

“Units not secured.”

Since the inception of the program, beginning in 1998, the units have never been designed to be locked/secured. Further, state fire regulations would not allow this.

“The fence has no razor or barbed wire attachments or toppers, and no sensors to detect escape attempts.”

The barbed wire was removed in March 2014 by the Department of Corrections under the direction of the DJJ, which has jurisdiction over the property.




“The staff is woefully undertrained; a typical G4S youth care worker has a high school diploma, and receives approximately 80 hours of training; this, when the DJJ/G4S contract calls for 129 hours.”

The number of G4S pre-service training hours exceeds the DJJ’s requirements, as outlined in F.A.C. 63H-2.001-.008 – Direct Care Staff Training. The pre-service training plans have been approved by the Department and provide 129 hours.Highlands Youth Academy Response 3

“The staff is ill equipped to handle the juveniles in their charge.”

The staff is appropriately trained to handle the juveniles in their charge. Pre-service training includes, but is not limited to, the following: ethics within the correctional environment; staff stress management; gender responsive services for adolescent delinquent youth; positive reinforcement techniques and strategies; emotional and behavioral development of children and adolescents; risk factors for delinquency and their treatment; physical development and common health issues of adolescent youth; restorative justice programming; risk factors and triggers relating to youth with a history of victimization; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), victimization, exploitation, domestic violence, trauma, and recovery issues; immediate access to emergency medical/mental health/substance abuse services; and program treatment model.

“A youth care worker can begin working virtually unsupervised with offenders while still in the training program.”

Following pre-service training staff receive on-the-job training (OJT) designed for specific job positions to learn “real experience” in the field of operations. Specific training modules require active demonstration of skills to validate an understanding of the population, support and care to be delivered. OJT is always conducted with experienced staff supervision.

“G4S believes that state certification is not necessary for youth care workers.”

State certification of staff who work in juvenile justice programs is controlled by Florida Administrative Rule and is not a “belief” of the Provider. Staff at Highlands Youth Academy exceed the staff training requirements, as set forth in Florida Administrative Code: Direct Care Staff Training (63H-2.001-.008). The training rule dictates certification, pre-service, and in-service training requirements. All Highlands Youth Academy direct care staff are certified in Protective Action Response (PAR), the ONLY DJJ-approved verbal and physical intervention techniques and application of mechanical restraints training (a 40-hour training). As required by this rule, all direct care staff must complete at least 120 hours of pre-service training, and at least 24 hours of in-service training, which G4S Youth Services, including Highlands Youth Academy, meets or exceeds. All G4S training is provided by certified PAR instructors, certified CPR/First Aid/AED instructors, and instructors who have completed the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission Instructor Techniques course.

“G4S youth care workers are paid between eight and ten dollars per hour.”

These rates are consistent with the pay scale utilized by G4S in 2008-2009. Currently, the average hourly rate of pay for a beginning Youth Care Worker is $10.75 per hour. A more experienced Youth Care Worker II earns $12.00 per hour, and our Shift Supervisors earn $17.75 per hour.

Additionally, all staff participate in our annual employee incentive bonus program that rewards our employees for years of service, individual performance evaluation, and overall program performance. The most recent bonus amounts have ranged from 3% to 3.5% of an employee’s annual salary.

“[Staff] are often young, not much older than the juvenile offenders they care for. They come from similar backgrounds as the offenders they supervise.”

All Youth Care Workers (direct care) be must be 21 years of age or older. This requirement is in our job description for Youth Care Workers, as well as recorded on our employment applications. There is no state of Florida or DJJ requirement for age of direct care workers.

We maintain a commitment to diversity in our workforce. We are dedicated to employing a workforce that is reflective of the diverse backgrounds of the populations served. This allows for cultural sensitivity and understanding of youth and staff. In its business relationships, we strive to seek local owners of diverse Highlands Youth Academy Response 4

backgrounds to serve a variety of business needs. This allows Florida-owned smaller companies to provide quality services meeting the standards and expectations required for a program such as this and further increases probability of being referred for future business.


“We learned that direct care staff morale at HYA is suffering.”

We conduct staff surveys on at least a quarterly basis at Highlands Youth Academy. The most recent survey we conducted, for which we received 42 staff responses, was for the 1st quarter of 2015 at Highlands Youth Academy. Survey results are reviewed at program, regional and corporate levels in an effort to recognize positive outcomes and address areas of concern and /or areas in need of improvement.

Highlands Youth Academy 2015 Quarterly Survey Results:

§ Do you understand the expectations for your position: 100% Yes

§ Has your training helped you in your role: 83.33 % Yes

§ Do you think the following trainings have helped you interact effectively with youth:

ü Motivational Interviewing: 91.67% Yes

ü On the Job Training (OJT): 75% Yes

ü Facility Operating Procedures: 83.33% Yes

§ Do you see your supervisors role model effective conflict resolution techniques: 83.33% Yes

§ Do you have the right to call for an abuse call at any time: 100% Yes

§ Are you briefed on what happened the previous two shifts: 91.67% Yes

§ Have you been able to assist youth with completing their goals: 91.67% Yes

§ Do major discipline consequences to youth require supervisor or treatment team approval: 100% Yes

§ Do the majority of other staff model pro social behavior for youth: 83.33% Yes

§ Do you model pro social behavior for youth: 91.67% Yes

§ Does the program offer gender specific services: 91.67% Yes

§ Do you feel that staff handles youth situations with fairness and consistency: 83.33% Yes

§ Do you deal with youth situations with fairness and consistency: 100% Yes

§ About how many positive reinforcements do you give out during an average week


ü 0-5 16.67%

ü 6-10 33.33%

ü 11-15 41.67%

ü More than 20 8.33%


§ Do you know how the grievance process works: 83.33% Yes

§ Do you feel incentives-rewards are helpful to the youth: 100% Yes

§ Have you heard staff swearing at youth: 100% No

§ Do you redirect youth that swear: 91.76% Yes

§ Do you hear other staff redirect youth that swear: 91.67% Yes

§ Are you allowed to call 911: 100% Yes

§ Do you feel incentives-rewards are helpful to the staff: 100% Yes

In April 2015, a system wide staff climate survey was initiated electronically for all employees.

Highlands Youth Academy Staff Climate Survey Trends:

§ The work I do has a meaningful impact on the youth under our care: 96.7% Strongly agree or agree

§ I am given the proper training to do my job: 90% strongly agree or agree

§ My supervisors consistently reward my good performance: 73.3 % strongly agree or agree

§ My supervisor only tells me when I do things wrong (never when I do a good job): 83.3% strongly disagree or disagree

§ I often have to work double shifts or more overtime than I want to: 83.3% Strongly disagree or disagree

§ There are opportunities to move up in G4S / the program if I work hard: 80% Strongly agree or agree

§ G4S runs very good residential programs compared to other providers: 83.3% Strongly agree or agree

§ I am treated with respect by other staff: 96.7 % strongly agree or agree


Company policy 3-39 outlines system wide practices used to recognize employees for their contribution to the company both through years of service and performance.

Employment Service: Point accrual rewards purchasing system which recognizes years of service.

Recognition: Recognition system for exemplary performance within three (3) categories:

I. Positive Culture

§ Use of choice language

§ Verbal reinforcement and recognition of youth’s positive behaviors

§ Staff demonstration of consistency and role modeling for youth and other staff

§ Staff reinforcement of expectations and values with youth and other staff

§ Effective and proactive communication

§ Self-contributing to program enhancement activities

§ Recognized reinforcement of A,B,C’s of Safety: Authenticity, Boundaries, Consistency and Structure


II. Team Work

§ Any employee can be recognized in this category by participating in or exhibiting positive


normal job expectations.

Rewards for recognition may include:

§ 8 hours or PTO added to PTO bank of the employee

§ 2 G4S Polo Shirts

§ 1 G4S Dress Shirt

§ 1 $50.00 Gift Card (AMEX, Walmart)

§ 25,000 points in the point recognition program


Employment Recognition: Facility Based Employee of the Month and Employee of the Year. Employees selected will be entered into the employee award website with a pre-determined level of reward points applied. Highlands Youth Academy Response 6 “HYA is perennially understaffed and currently functioning at half of its authorized strength of youth care workers.”

HYA is held by DJJ to specific staff to youth ratios per our contract with DJJ. HYA has been in compliance with these required ratios since our contract began in 1998.

“The average length of experience of a typical youth care worker at HYA is less than one year.”

Currently the average years of experience for a Youth Care Worker employed at Highlands Youth Academy is 5.7 years.

“We discovered that incentives to remain employed in DJJ contract facilities are lacking for highly trained and educated personnel even when they do accept positions therein. Personnel with advanced degrees

and specialized certifications are not rewarded for those accomplishments with higher pay, and in some cases are compensated less than personnel with less training. That is not an incentive to remain employed in an often demanding setting.”

Below are the professional level incentives offered:

1. As a value added component of Contract # 10002, Highlands Youth Academy provides for tuition reimbursement for up to $3,000.00 for any youth specialist or staff mentor(s) interested in pursuing a higher level of education (Bachelor’s or Master’s degree).


2. To support the employment of qualified professionals and to assist staff in maintaining compliance with applicable standards, laws and regulations governing certain professionals and services, CEU reimbursement is made available to all full time clinical and nursing staff at Highlands Youth Academy.


3. Professional staff are eligible for reimbursement up to $1,500.00 for conference attendance and CEU fees each year.


4. To support professional development, we incur the cost of clinical supervision fees for applicable registered interns who require supervision hours to obtain licensure.


5. Licensed professionals are eligible for licensure renewal fee reimbursement, if the professional is a full time employee.




“The juvenile delinquents receive no meaningful tools to not reoffend.”

We select the clinical treatments and delinquency interventions provided to youth based on the most current, comprehensive empirical results regarding the effectiveness of those services. Research has demonstrated cognitive behavioral, as well as social skills training interventions, delivered in a group format to juvenile offenders, to be two of the most effective service types to reduce re-offending reduction of 26%, while social skills training shows 13% reduction in re-offending (Lipsey et al., 2010; Lipsey, 2009). Highlands Youth Academy provides these services in addition to vocational instruction and trade certifications, GED testing, as well as traditional academic credits towards and including a high school diploma.Highlands Youth Academy Response 7  DJJ has identified three primary services for Highlands Youth Academy (the three main services provided for the purpose of reducing risk to re-offend). From 2014 to June 2015 Highlands has provided 164 youth with:

§ 1,167 face-to-face hours of the evidence-based cognitive behavioral intervention, Thinking for a Change, developed by the National Institute of Corrections, which teaches youth problem solving, addresses antisocial attitudes, and teaches appropriate social skills.

§ 1,151 face-to-face hours of the restorative justice Impact of Crime curriculum teaching youth accountability, empathy, community service, and the repercussions of their actions. Impact of Crime has been evaluated and results have been published in a peer-reviewed criminology journal showing DJJ residential youth who receive the service show significantly greater reductions in risk to re-offend than residential youth who do not receive the service.

§ 64,740 face-to-face hours of Vocational Trade Instruction.


The juvenile justice system was founded on the principle that youth can be rehabilitated. This philosophy has been upheld by recent US Supreme Court rulings preventing the death penalty for juveniles (Roper v. Simmons, 2005), and life without parole for non-homicide (Graham v. Florida, 2011) and homicide offenses (Jackson v. Hobbs, 2012; Miller v. Alabama, 2012) committed by juveniles. These reforms have stemmed predominately from developmental neuroscience, maturity, and criminal career research. As such, ALL juveniles placed in residential programs (or adult prisons for that matter) will return to the community. Juvenile justice programs must protect public safety by treating underlying risk factors of delinquency, and mental health problems, while building strengths, enhancing education, and teaching skills.

G4S Youth Services programs, including Highlands Youth Academy, do NOT warehouse juveniles for a determinate period of time in adult prison-like atmospheres; instead, we employ evidence-based, proven interventions to reduce future crime. We are not guided by politics or rhetoric, but by science. These evidence-based approaches have been highlighted by leading national experts touting Florida DJJ as a reform champion, with proof of such claim documented in “A Handbook for Evidence-based Juvenile Justice Systems” by Howell (of the National Gang Center), Lipsey, & Wilson.

“Particularly, HYA once boasted an award-winning aftercare program called STREET Smart, which won an award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquencyin 2009. The program has been discontinued.”

STREET Smart was a U.S. Department of Labor funded pilot program sponsored by the DJJ that provided comprehensive aftercare support services for graduates of the Avon Park Youth Academy (now known as the Highlands Youth Academy). When the three-year federal funding ended, the DJJ requested continuation funding from the Legislature, but despite the proven success of the program, the request was denied. DJJ made an attempt to fund the program, using existing aftercare funds, but the limitations of that funding source made replication impossible, and the program was eventually abandoned for lack of Legislative support. We agree that Legislative support to refund this program would create a positive impact for youth.

“HYA also offers medical and mental health facilities, with degreed professionals able to be reached by telephone, but not routinely available at the facility.”

Mental Health Professionals are onsite at Highlands Youth Academy seven days a week providing mental health treatment services. Monday through Friday Mental Health Professionals areonsite eight hours a day, seven days a week. Furthermore, a Licensed Mental Health Professional is available via phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Nurses licensed by Chapter 464, Florida Statute, provide nursing services at Highlands youth Academy. Nursing staff are on-site daily between the hours of 6:30 am and 7:30 pm and on-call twenty-four hours a Highlands Youth Academy Response 8 day, seven days a week. Additionally, a Board-Certified Medical Doctor and a Nurse Practitioner are on-site twice weekly and on-call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, as required by contract.


Educational and vocational opportunities have been reduced over the years. The building trades and contract educators at HYA strive to provide the best education possible with their limited resources.

Since 1998 we have operated the school at Highlands Youth Academy under a contract with the Polk County School Board. Funding for students in DJJ schools is set by the Legislature each year and goes to the School District, which in turn, sends a prorated, per student amount that can only be used for educational and support services. Over time the capacity of the facility has been reduced from 212 youth to 160 youth and currently is set at 80 youth. As a result, the total number of dollars has been proportionally reduced, as the student population count has decreased. Our partner, Home Builders Institute (HBI), provides specialized vocational training under a separate contract with DJJ.

When we were at the 160 capacity level, there were 14 vocational teachers. (8 HBI, 6 G4S). Now, at the 80 capacity level, we now have seven (7) vocational teachers. (4 HBI, 3 G4S). The vocational teacher to student ratio has remained the same, as the student population has been reduced.

The vocational opportunities offered to our students remains the same as in years past, but some have been reorganized to meet the new requirements of state law. HBI integrated Electrical, Carpentry, Plumbing, and Masonry all into Building Construction Technology, as a function of HBI becoming recognized as an Industry-Based Certification provider (CAPE legislation). HBI teaches Electrical, Plumbing, Carpentry, and Masonry as integral parts of Building Construction Technology, and students are tested in each of these areas, as they complete training and move toward the Industry based certification third party assessment.

A new vocational training program, Broadband Academy, was recently started. This after-school program provides instruction in Copper Cabling and AudioVisual Electronics. Successful completion of the program results in the youth receiving an industry-recognized certificate.

According to data in the DJJ Evidence-based Services module in their database, Highlands Youth Academy has delivered 64,740 face-to-face hours of Vocational Trade Instruction to 164 youth during the past eighteen months.

Even as the student population has decreased, we continue to seek additional resources to expand or improve our current offerings. Just last year we won a $40,000 Perkins Grant to purchase additional instructional materials for career technical classes in building construction technology, including flooring, culinary arts, and digital publishing. Included was equipment used to train students seeking certification in OSHA safety and SafeServe in culinary arts.

When student population was between 160 and 180, academic classroom students to teacher ratios averaged at 15-20:1. Currently at the 80 student level, the ratio is 10-15:1, allowing for more individualized instruction. All students are enrolled in classes in which they are earning credits toward high school graduation. For those students for whom a diploma is not realistic, HYA retains its status as one of the best GED/Exit Option providers in the state for juvenile justice schools, even as the new and significantly more difficult GED was rolled out in 2014. In that year Avon Park tested more students (48) on the new GED, despite its decreasing enrollments, than any other G4S juvenile site, including those with higher enrollments. Importantly, the percentage of passers on the new, more difficult 2014 GED at Avon Park Youth Academy was 75%, as contrasted with the state average of 58% GED passing rate on the new test. C. OUTCOMES

“The contract specifies performance goals such as 49% recidivism for release youth, but we found that no measures exist to enforce compliance. In the event of a breach, DJJ and G4S would enter into a corrective action plan, and if that fails, costly litigation is DJJ’s alternative.”

Performance goals, such as recidivism, are explicitly specified with measurable targets in the Highlands Youth Academy contract with the Department. Failure to meet those benchmarks results in a corrective action plan, overseen by DJJ. Failure to complete the corrective action can result in termination of the contract by the Department. Additionally, past performance of all existing and prior contracts is part of the contract procurement process, meaning programs that do not meet required contractual performance measures decrease the ability of the provider to win future contracts.

Performance measure reporting is included as a part of the contract manager’s monitoring plan.

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice 2000 Contract Management and Program Monitoring and Quality Improvement:

§ Performance measures reporting by the provider are outlined in the contract for monthly, quarterly or annually. Performance measures were entered into the Program Monitoring and Management system when the manager completed the contract review. The manager must input on the plan the anticipated dates for the performance measure reporting and review.


§ Annual performance measures must be validated annually, but not necessarily at 06/30 of each year. The manager should spread the due date for measures throughout the year so to avoid a workload impact on providers or the manager. The same rule applies for quarterly or monthly performance measures. The manager should spread the reporting times throughout the year so as to ease the workload for the provider and the Department.


§ Each time a plan is completed or updated by the manager or a program monitor it is routed in PMM for the supervisor’s approval.


Corrective Action

Based upon the monitoring events, a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) may be needed. The manager and monitor are not responsible for the development of the CAP, but may provide information to the program/provider to assist in the development of the CAP. The program/provider is responsible for the development of the CAP.

The manager is responsible for monitoring of the provider’s progress on the CAP and reporting concerns to the Program Area. If deficiencies are not resolved the manager may need to follow up and impose consequences or ultimately terminate the contract.

Additionally, the percentage of youth who remain crime free one year after release is incorporated into the evaluation of past performance for residential commitment programs, which is a required evaluation component for all new business.

“HYA’s fiscal year 2013-2014 recidivist rate hovered near 70% by some estimates, and we learned that across the juvenile system in Florida, the average recidivist rate is as high as 60%.”

The official definition of recidivism for the DJJ is a subsequent juvenile adjudication (including adjudication withheld) or adult conviction for an offense that occurred within 1 year of completing a program. The average yearly recidivism rate for Highlands Youth Academy from the 1,253 youth that completed between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2013 is 38.4%, ranging from a low of 31.4% to a high of 41.5%. The recidivism rate for Highlands has never been above 41.5%. The average recidivism rate for all DJJ programs serving similar youth has ranged from 45% to 50% over the same time period (based on the categories DJJ has placed Highlands in its annual reports). These figures are available in the DJJ Comprehensive Accountability Reports published on the DJJ website, and reflect the most recent available data.


“The juvenile delinquents are improperly supervised.”

Staff-to-youth ratios are specified in contract. As per Florida Administrative Code: Operation of Residential Programs (63E-7), “establishment of staff-to-youth ratios for each contracted program shall be based on the following factors: restrictiveness level of the program; special needs of the targeted population; and facility layout or physical plant design. Highlands Youth Academy provides 24-hour awake supervision every day of the year. Staff-to-youth ratios are 1:3.33 during the day and evenings, and 1:5 at night (11:00 pm to 7:00 am). These ratios include far more staff per youth and greater levels of supervision than the Department of Justice federally mandated PREA ratios where the standard contained in the final rule requires that '[e]ach secure juvenile facility shall maintain staff ratios of a minimum of 1:8 during resident waking hours and 1:16 during resident sleeping hours’ (115.313(c)).

“Another offender, a gang member, was over a year into this six to nine month program. He had 194 disciplinary infractions, including attacks on staff: property destruction, and sexual harassment of staff members. Seventeen years old and six feet tall, he sexually harassed a female staff member for six months and HYA administrators did nothing.”

The youth in question was not a documented gang member based on records provided to HYA, but rather, a suspected associate of gang members. The youth’s length of stay had been extended due to his noncompliance with program rules. In this instance, the staff person reported that the youth acted inappropriately when she entered his presence, not in a sexual manner, but inappropriately greeting her. It was reported that on one occasion he ran out of the door and hugged her when he saw her outside of his unit. The youth was brought before the treatment team and received appropriate consequences. On the occasion where the youth had inappropriately touched the staff member, she reported the incident and met with the Program Director to discuss contacting law enforcement. During that discussion she was given the opportunity to contact law enforcement; however she stated she did not want to. The staff then left the facility and went to the law enforcement agency to press charges, which is her right.

“DJJ rules regard it as acceptable if a facility reports an escape from custody within two hours. We found that G4S administrators frequently cite this provision as a reason not to notify law enforcement timely when an offender escapes.”

DJJ requires programs to report serious incidents within two hours of the incident or when the program became aware of the incident. This requirement is not related to reporting to law enforcement. The escape plan policy requires the immediate reporting of an escape to law enforcement. We have not found a single instance when such notice was not immediately made.

“But the facility administrator at HYA, and those at other G4S facilities, requires staff to finish their shift and leave work before they can call law enforcement to report being the victim even of violent or sexually-based crime. G4S internal policies discourage contacting law enforcement when crimes occur at their facilities. Particularly when offenders batter staff, G4S policy is that such should be dealt with by the facility staff. G4S management does not understand that battery on a worker in a residential facility is a felony, and is not aware that policies discouraging reporting are being interpreted literally at the staff level on the compounds of G4S facilities, and in practice function as directives not to involve law enforcement at all, when a crime occurs.”

In August 2009 DJJ issued Guidelines, relating to the contacting of law enforcement by residential providers. The reason given for these Guidelines was a belief by DJJ that some programs were using law enforcement to manage behavior of the youth in instances when those behaviors should have been managed by the program. DJJ required every provider to develop a policy in this regard. We did so, as directed, and incorporated most of the Guidelines issued by DJJ.

One of those Guidelines was that when an incident occurred and the program decided not to contact law enforcement, the program was to inform the staff effected and inform them that they could contact law enforcement or file charges during their off-hours. On June 29, 2015, DJJ issues a revision of those Guidelines, deleting the “off hours” requirement. We revised our policy, accordingly.

We are well aware that battery on a staff member could be very serious and such incidents are always reported to law enforcement. Further, a staff who chooses to contact law enforcement when the program has decided not to has never been disciplined or subjected to any type of personnel action. We fully recognize our staffs’ right to contact law enforcement, whenever they choose to do so.


“We learned that HYA previously was accredited by the American Correctional Association (ACA), which has guidelines that juvenile facilities must meet to demonstrate professionalism and proficiency. G4S management has allowed that to lapse and is replacing ACA with a different provider; one specifically not geared toward correctional facilities.”

G4S management made the decision to not renew the program’s ACA Accreditation based on state and national data. DJJ has stated in its Roadmap to System Excellence “Previous efforts of juvenile justice systems have done little to deter crime and decades of harsh punishment for serious offenders have not been effective. Recidivism rates barely changed over that time. But the answer is not to inflict harsher punishments. Recent and compelling research has shown that the previous ‘tough on crime’ and ‘scared straight’ approaches, such as weekend lock-ups, are not deterrents to crime. If anything, they are the opposite” and that “we must…strive to care for them in the least restrictive environment” (Roadmap to System Excellence, 2013, p. 5, emphasis in the original). Based on the direction of the DJJ, the juvenile justice reform efforts of the Florida legislature and Governor Scott, and a plethora of criminological research on “what works” to reduce juvenile crime, we have focused its programming and services. Correctional accreditation is no longer a focus for DJJ, which mimics reform movements across the nation, including Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Oregon, California, and others. Highlands Youth Academy, rehabilitates youth with offending histories.


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