Florida lawmakers recently made surprise inspections of juvenile detention centers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and found conditions to be "horrible, horrific, deplorable."
Conditions inside Florida's 21 juvenile detention centers and 53 privately run residential programs came under scrutiny after the Miami Herald reported about widespread excessive force, sexual misconduct, and inadequate medical care in the state's juvenile facilities.
A week after the investigative series was published, state lawmakers from Miami-Dade County made a surprise inspection of that county's detention center, and expressed disgust about what they saw: mold, mildew, leaking toilet water, broken showers, and living quarters with no running water. "The living conditions are horrible, horrific, deplorable," said State Rep. Kionne McGhee, Dem-Cutler Bay. "Unacceptable. Unacceptable. And we want answers."
This past summer, Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) inspectors found grime and mold on toilet walls, graffiti in bathroom stalls, and missing tiles in showers. Photos from their inspection show a gaping hole in one wall, exposing plumbing fixtures; widespread graffiti, peeling paint, moldy bathroom floors, caked-on dirt and grime on the concrete slabs where youths sleep, and filthy bathrooms and showers. But not until four days after lawmakers visited the facility was Miami-Dade detention center's top administrator reprimanded for failing to quickly resolve identified cleanliness and maintenance issues, the Herald reported.
At other facilities, lawmakers found youth had numerous untreated ant bites and lice infestations, and had only sporadic access to cold, short showers.
Inhumane conditions inside Florida's juvenile facilities have largely remained hidden from the public. DJJ's Office of Program Accountability performs oversight of each facility and posts reports online, but those reports do not include any measures of building maintenance, cleanliness, sanitation, plumbing, or ventilation, and such information is not readily available elsewhere.
"So many of the children in our detention centers, through no fault of their own, only know impoverishment and deprivation. It is our job, as an institution, to rise above that and show them that their lives are valuable and we expect them to make a positive contribution to our community," said Miami-Dade Juvenile Court Judge Cindy Lederman, who has spent two decades on the bench. "The conditions in our detention centers only reinforce their impoverishment and deprive them of hope. We should be ashamed. This is not rehabilitation."