FLORIDA

State prison for teen girls a failed experiment

The concrete hallways of Florida's maximum-security prison for girls, once filled with the echoes of nearly 100 troubled youth, will settle into silence Tuesday when the last of the teens is shipped off to another juvenile facility.

Frustrated state legislators have unceremoniously shut down the scandal-ridden Florida Institute for Girls, west of West Palm Beach, only five years after it opened.
At least one juvenile-justice advocate hailed the closure as the �right thing to do� because the state has been unable to heal the prison once touted as the last hope for some of Florida's most difficult juveniles.
�I think it ... points to the fact that large, prison-like warehouses don't work with girls and, in my opinion, any juveniles, and that staff have to be thoroughly trained and monitored to ensure the program and services are appropriately implemented,� said Cassandra Jenkins, juvenile-justice director at Children's Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Tallahassee.
Despite intense scrutiny by the state Department of Juvenile Justice, each of the two private providers hired to run the prison had been unable to effectively control the violent girls, treat their deep-seated emotional and psychological problems and curb the inappropriate relationships they developed with guards.

The girls sent to the prison have committed crimes such as carjacking, drug dealing, manslaughter, battery and rape. Most were physically and sexually abused as children and many suffer from serious mental health problems.
Over the years, the prison had been besieged by reports of girls viciously attacking their peers and their guards. Some girls have repeatedly attempted suicide. Others have been injured numerous times after being physically restrained by staff members.
Under the watch of the first provider, two guards pleaded guilty to engaging in criminal sexual misconduct with girls.
Increasing trouble at the prison led Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer to impanel a grand jury in 2003 to investigate. Another provider soon was chosen to take over. While some conditions improved under Lighthouse Care Centers, state Juvenile Justice officials still were concerned by the lack of appropriate therapy for the girls.
And just a few weeks ago, scandal rocked the prison again after a 44-year-old worker was arrested for having sex with a 15-year-old inmate.
The girl told investigators she was upset with William Lane, who had worked at the prison since 2001 because he refused to pay her the $50 she was promised for sex. At the time of the incident, which occurred in the girl's cell, the lights in the dorm were completely out, in violation of normal protocol.

Since the Legislature announced in the spring it wouldn't cough up the millions of dollars it takes to run the program every year, Juvenile Justice officials and the Lighthouse staff struggled with what to do with the more than 60 girls who remained at the prison.
About 25 have since completed the program and been released. The rest were transferred to four other high-risk facilities for girls that also provide mental health services.
�The transfers to these facilities are viewed as a temporary fix,� said Tom Denham, Juvenile Justice spokesman.
In the future, he said, the state likely will spread out high-risk girls among a number of facilities, rather than concentrating them all at one site. And the state hopes eventually to find a successful national program for girls to emulate here.
�The care and nurturing of high-risk girls obviously require unique solutions that the department is dedicated to finding,� Denham said.
Jenkins of the Children's Campaign said she hopes the prison's rise and fall will be an important lesson to state officials on what works and what doesn't when it comes to balancing the safety of the public with the needs of troubled youth.

�I just think this is a great opportunity to reform the juvenile-justice system, starting with a review of the girls coming out of the Florida Institute for Girls.�

Shana Gruskin
28 August 2005

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/palmbeach/sfl-ppfig28aug28,0,179663.story?coll=sfla-news-palm

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