Two recently-filed lawsuits against a private company that owns and operates youth prison centers throughout the United States alleges that the company frequently covered up reports of staff members sexually abusing children who were inmates at their facilities.
According to court documents related to the lawsuits, a top-ranking administrator at a Youth Services International (YSI) youth prison regularly made sexual advances toward teenage boys who were being held at the prison in 2010 and 2011. The lawsuit also alleges that the administrator on at least one occasion brought youth inmates to his home and into his bedroom.
Additionally, a separate lawsuit filed in the court accuses a separate YSI employee – a female guard, according to court records – of using her position of power at the prison to engage in an intimate and sexual relationship with a 14-year-old inmate.
Officials Failed to Investigate Claims of Sex Abuse
The lawsuits together claim that officials at the Department of Juvenile Justice in Florida did not investigate the alleged incidents – which they received multiple reports of shortly after the child sex abuse is alleged to have occurred – until approximately one year after they occurred.
In the lawsuits, parents of the victims of this alleged child sex abuse blame the lapses on the fact that the for-profit prison company did not immediately report the allegations to state officials, even though the company’s contracts with the state make the reporting of all abuse claims an explicit requirement.
The state of Florida has privatized the entire youth prison system, leading to an extremely lucrative opportunity for companies like YSI, which was founded by James Slattery. However, multiple investigative reports into YSI and other companies owned and operated by Slattery revealed troubling patterns of abuse and neglect.
In those investigations, reporters and officials uncovered more than two decades of young inmates reporting sexual and physical abuse – as well as physical and emotional neglect – during their stays at the prison facilities. Inmates claimed that they were being beaten, sexually assaulted and neglected by guards and when they tried to report the abuse, facility administrators quickly buried their claims.
Prison Staff Admit YSI Discouraged Reporting Abuse
When the Huffington Post interviewed multiple former employees of YSI-operated youth prison centers, the staff members admitted that the company openly discouraged employees from reporting mistreatment and child sex abuse to the proper authorities. The investigations into the company found this was likely for fear that bad publicity would endanger future contracts with the state, which were making a great deal of money for the company.
Because Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice relies primarily on contractors to self-report serious events – such as fights, inmate escapes and abuse – the state was unable to discover any patterns of child sex abuse. According to former YSI employees, the state’s rules and regulations created an incentivized system for the company to under-report and even cover up instances of staff transgressions and sexual abuse of its inmates.
In response to the Huffington Post investigative report, top lawmakers and administrative officials in Florida have called for an official legislative hearing on records of abuse inside of YSI’s prisons. The first was scheduled to occur on January 15.
Lapses Allowed Child Sexual Abuse to Continue
“They used to tell us, ‘If something’s going on, don’t call the police, call a supervisor,” said former YSI employee Kamel Warren. “They don’t want people to come in, investigate and find out what was really going on in this facility.”
Court documents show that officials with the Department of Juvenile Justice did not learn of the relationships between the male administrator and child inmates until at least 11 months after the events are alleged to have occurred. And court documents show that the child sex abuse was only reported after an attorney who was independently representing a former YSI employee had heard about the incidents and reported them to the state.
Correspondence discovered in the Huffington Post’s investigation revealed that multiple supervisors at YSI were explicitly aware of the allegations of child sex abuse involving the administrator but did not report them to the state.
Legal Implications Regarding Child Sex Abuse
The entire slew of allegations involving YSI is currently under criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the results of which should determine whether any company supervisors or other officials will face any criminal charges related to the child sex abuse and alleged cover-up.
From a civil law standpoint, the two lawsuits already filed against YSI indicate that there are multiple alleged victims of this sexual and physical abuse. And although court documents and investigative reports suggest that there is some damning evidence against the company, high-ranking officials at YSI have made it clear that they have every intention on fighting the lawsuits.
If it is found that the company knowingly and willingly covered up the reports of sexual abuse on behalf of its employees, then it is presumable that the company could be found liable for the damages suffered by the plaintiffs.