New claims of
abuse at boys camp
As law enforcement
investigates allegations of abuse, officials at the
governor's office sent a team to a North Florida
town to ensure the safety of juvenile delinquents.
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER AND
October 14, 2006
- Three separate state agencies are
investigating whether caretakers used banned,
excessive and harmful restraints at a camp for
delinquent boys, some of whom are mentally retarded
or have other special needs.
At least one youth
might have suffered a broken collarbone at the
Greenville Hills Academy in Greenville just last
week, according to records obtained by The Miami
Herald. One 16-year-old claimed he was ``choked.''
And in another
episode, guards also reported using a technique
called a wrist lock that was banned two years ago by
Anthony Schembri, secretary of the state Department
of Juvenile Justice, an agency still reeling from
the death of a 14year-old at another Panhandle
facility earlier this year.
The DJJ is
investigating Greenville along with the Florida
Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of
Children & Families. The agencies declined to give
any details other than to confirm the investigation
into the academy, which has been the subject of 30
verified abuse or neglect claims made to a state
telephone hot line in two years.
agency takes these allegations very seriously,''
said DJJ chief of staff Cynthia Lorenzo. ``Our top
priority is the safety of youth in our care.
Unfortunately, with open investigations we are
unable to provide details. Once we do have all of
the facts, we will take swift and appropriate action
as needed, if any of our staff was involved in any
Donnie Read, who
heads the youth camp's operator, Twin Oaks Juvenile
Development, did not return calls from a reporter.
Twin Oaks has faced unsustained allegations of abuse
at another facility in Apalachicola.
Simply known as
''the Academy'' in Greenville, an old railroad stop
of a town in Madison County, the complex of brick
buildings is topped with bright-blue roofs. It is
surrounded by rolling lawns immaculately kept behind
barbed wire fencing off a rural road. From a
distance, the juveniles, wearing purple shirts and
gray pants, look like average kids herded about
summer camp by overseers clad in brick-red shirts.
One employee, who
wouldn't give his name, said workers have whispered
about the probe. And some think it's unfair.
managing some of these kids. They can just go
wild,'' the worker said.
also filed three incident reports with the juvenile
justice agency last week, including the one in which
a teen alleged a guard ``choked him.''
The camp has a
history of complaints from the teens housed there.
Youths filed 286 reports of abuse or neglect with
the DCF child abuse hot line from September 2004
through June 2006 -- an average of about 13 reports
each month, according to DCF abuse records obtained
by The Miami Herald. Thirty reports were verified.
of Greenville Hills comes at a particularly
sensitive time for Florida's troubled juvenile
prosecutor in Tampa is nearing the end of a nearly
yearlong investigation into the Jan. 6 death of
Martin Lee Anderson, who officials say was
asphyxiated by guards restraining him at a Panama
City boot camp. An earlier official autopsy
concluded that Martin died of natural causes.
legislation to curb the use of physical force at
five Florida boot camps, resulting in the closure of
all but one.
''These are the
most vulnerable kids in the system, and they're
being abused,'' state Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami
Beach Republican who heads a juvenile justice
oversight committee, said of the boys housed at the
moderate-risk program for ''the mentally
challenged'' in Greenville, a small junction-town
between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.
''These are the
kids who really need our protection the most,'' he
added. ``But they are being abused the most.''
A 2006 inspection
of the academy, which Twin Oaks took over in July
2005, found that the camp used a behavior
modification program in which youths were rewarded
when they exhibited ''pro-social'' behaviors.
records say Greenville Hills houses boys aged 14-18,
the inspection suggested some of the boys are so
young they still wet their beds.
''It should be
noted that Madison cottage houses the little boys
and it appears that there may be a bedwetting
problem,'' the March 2006 report said, noting the
cottage ``smelled of urine.''
Roy Miller, whose
Tallahassee-based Florida Children's Campaign has
been a vocal critic of the state's youth corrections
effort, called the allegations ``very upsetting.''
has described every abuse incident as `isolated.'
They are not isolated. The system is in crisis. We
have gone on record as saying these programs cannot
guarantee the health and safety of our children,''
State Rep. Mitch
Needelman, a Melbourne Republican who is vice chair
of the House Juvenile Justice Committee and sits on
a separate DJJ oversight committee, said he was
''disappointed'' that DJJ officials failed to alert
him to the investigation before a reporter started
In May, DCF's
inspector general concluded there was no evidence to
sustain allegations that youths at another Twin
Oaks-run facility, Apalachicola Forest Youth Camp,
''sustained serious injury'' as a result of
excessive force at that Florida Panhandle camp for
youths incompetent to stand trial because of mental
illness or disability.
The report said,
however, that eight youths had broken bones at the
camp between October 2003 and March 2006, including
four broken arms and two broken elbows. At least
four of the injuries occurred during restraints.
Twice, on Feb. 4, 2004 and Sept. 13, 2004, youths
fractured elbows during ''elbow control''
restraints, the report says.
One Miami youth, a
then-15-year-old with mental retardation who was
detained at Apalachicola after being charged with
molestation, suffered a spiral fracture to his left
arm in December 2005, according to records obtained
by The Miami Herald. A report from Tallahassee
Memorial Hospital said the injury occurred during a
In all, DCF
received 219 child abuse reports involving the camp
since January 2002. Twenty-six of the reports were
closed with either verified abuse or some
''indicators'' of abuse.
somebody's kids,'' Barreiro said. ``We just can't
continue to hurt these kids and expect them to come
back to the community and not want to hurt other
information re: Greenville Hills Academy:
1. 2004 Bureau of
Quality Assurance, Deemed Status Site Visit
2. April trial for
teen's boot-camp death (click