Report charts dangerous rise of youth Prison Industrial Complex

A HuffPo investigation finds widespread cruelty in the growing privatization of the juvenile prison system

Published October 22, 2013 4:47PM (EDT)


The first of a two-part investigation published by the Huffington Post Tuesday tracks the fierce growth of the youth Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).

Based on juvenile facility data, surveying over 300 privately run juvenile detention institution, the investigation found widespread harsh treatment and a "sweeping" push in recent years to put the youth carceral system in the hands of for-profit prison firms. The HuffPo report focuses on a for-profit youth prison enterprise, Youth Services International. At the helm of the firm, a man whose for-profit prisons have for over two decades been sites of prisoner abuse, investigated at various times by Justice Department and authorities in New York, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Texas.

Despite Slattery's troubling record, his Youth Services International (YSI) has been entrusted by 16 states across the country to oversee the detention of 40,000 boys and girls in the last 20 years. "Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s juvenile delinquents are today committed to private facilities, according to the most recent federal data from 2011, up from about 33 percent twelve years earlier," HuffPo reported. The investigation notes that, as with trends in the U.S.'s vast adult carceral system, for-profit youth prisons have gained purchase where state budget shortfalls need plugging. The argument for prison privatization, the investigation stresses, is not only economically flawed, but bolsters the U.S.'s world-record prison population size and has given rise to widespread abuses.

In Florida, for example, the investigation found that "although YSI oversaw only about 9 percent of the state’s juvenile jail beds during the past five years, the company was responsible for nearly 15 percent of all reported cases of excessive force and injured youths."

Via HuffPo:

The private prison industry has long fueled its growth on the proposition that it is a boon to taxpayers, delivering better outcomes at lower costs than state facilities. But significant evidence undermines that argument: the tendency of young people to return to crime once they get out, for example, and long-term contracts that can leave states obligated to fill prison beds. The harsh conditions confronting youth inside YSI’s facilities, moreover, show the serious problems that can arise when government hands over social services to private contractors and essentially walks away.

Those held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades, according to a HuffPost investigation that included interviews with 14 former employees and a review of thousands of pages of state audits, lawsuits, local police reports and probes by state and federal agencies. Out of more than 300 institutions surveyed, a YSI detention center in Georgia had the highest rate of youth alleging sexual assaults in the country, according to a recent report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

HuffPo highlighted its investigation's key findings:

  • Staff underreport serious incidents such as major fights and staff assaults in an effort to keep the state in the dark and avoid additional scrutiny – a violation of the company’s contracts as well as Department of Juvenile Justice rules requiring that contracted staff report such incidents to state authorities.
  • Though state guidelines prohibit “unnecessarily harsh or indecent treatment,” YSI guards have frequently resorted to violence in confrontations with youth, slapping and choking inmates and sometimes fracturing bones, according to police reports. Former employees told HuffPost that YSI often fails to document such incidents.
  • Staff turnover at YSI’s prisons is rampant, leaving inexperienced guards to manage a tough population.
  • At YSI facilities, food is often in short supply and frequently undercooked. Youth interviewed by HuffPost recounted being served bloody, raw chicken and sometimes finding flies inside pre-cooked dishes. In order to get enough food, youth are allowed to gamble through card games and sports bets while trading “picks” — the right to take someone else’s food at the next meal.


By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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