osted: 12:00 a.m. Sunday, June 22, 2014
Commentary: Time for a shift in state’s Department of Juvenile Justice
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By Rashad Robinson
A boy’s elbow is broken. Meals are infested with maggots. Children are left isolated in bare cells for 14 hours, locked in facilities that have the highest sexual abuse rates in the nation. This is how the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) “rehabilitates” its youth via the for-profit prison industry.
Private companies operate 100 percent of youth prisons in the state of Florida, and have an appalling record of exploitation and abuse. These companies regularly commit acts of violence, sexual abuse, and neglect against the state’s most vulnerable. This abuse disproportionately harms black youth, who are four times more likely than white youth to be committed to the DJJ, and the vast majority for non-violent offenses.
For-profit prisons cause irreparable harm to Florida’s youth, waste taxpayer dollars, and bring national shame to the DJJ and the state. But Florida can stop this, and DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters has an opportunity to ensure this historic change before she retires from her post on June 30.
My organization, ColorOfChange, is a national civil rights organization with more than 900,000 members nationwide and nearly 40,000 in Florida. We call on Walters to end the DJJ’s contracts with private prison companies. Walters should halt the renewal of any contracts with such for-profit prison companies as G4S, which has three contracts together valued at $118 million expiring at the end of this month. Nearly 15,000 of our Florida members have already joined the campaign — sending a clear message that Floridians want better for their youth.
Corrupt private prison companies have taken over Florida’s juvenile justice system — making millions by incarcerating predominantly black and brown youth in dangerous and inhumane conditions. Private prison companies care about one thing: maximizing profit, regardless of the conditions inside theirwarehouses, or their impact on youth in the state’s care. Their for-profit model incentivizes imprisonment rather than rehabilitation.Private prison companies lobby hard to secure state contracts and increase their bottom line. The state has a duty to hold these companies accountable — just as it holds youth accountable for their actions. It’s time to stop giving abusive companies license to harm youth.
Walters declared in a recent interview that the DJJ is not a throwaway department for throwaway children. Before her departure, Walters can cement her legacy as a champion for youth by breaking the DJJ’s ties with the private prison racket and instead investing in community-based programs that are proven to work to divert youth from the school-to-prison pipeline.
Across the nation, jurisdictions are investing in rehabilitative programs that are demonstrated to reduce recidivism and halt the revolving door of incarceration. As Walters retires, she has a choice. She can either stand with youth, and a vision for effective rehabilitation that reduces crime and saves Florida tax dollars, or allow the FDJJ to continue coddling companies that fail youth and taxpayers to serve their own bottom line.