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West Palm Juvenile Facility in Question after Photos of Bloodstain Cells Surface

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A juvenile detention center near West Palm Beach is under investigation after photos surfaced showing what is said to be a bloodstained cell at the facility. Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana said the pictures, which she circulated after Florida’s top juvenile justice official vouched for the private company running the state’s Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility. The photographs were taken after a teenager intentionally cut his  arm when he wasn’t allowed to leave the cell to use the bathroom.

However, facility administrator Manny Alvarez said the private company that oversees it, Youth Services International, Inc., is looking into the possibility that the pictures “may have been staged by a disgruntled employee.” He said the facility is cooperating with an investigation being conducted by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. After an initial review, Alvarez stated, “staff at the facility were told by the investigator that he did not see how it was possible for the youth’s injury, which consisted of a small scratch the size of a bug bite on his arm, to have caused the amount of blood shown in the photos provided to the press.” He supported the statement with a photograph of an arm with a small, red scratch.

Earlier, Vana stated that the teenager asked to leave the cell because his toilet wasn’t working, and was left waiting for hours before being removed when his injury was discovered. “He should have been let out to go to the bathroom instead of letting it escalate,” Vana said. “It’s terrible.” The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice said it could not share details of the incident because it is under investigation.

The Department of Juvenile Justice’s Inspector General’s Office has also opened an investigation. “We will pursue every investigative avenue to get to the bottom of this incident and will hold any wrongdoers accountable,” stated a department spokeswoman.Vana stated that she obtained the photos from someone within the facility, taken just hours after Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly met with her and other local officials in West Palm Beach. During the meeting, Daly pledged to continue investigating problems, but said that improvements were already underway at the facility. Daly’s visit was prompted by months of scrutiny about safety concerns at the facility.

According to a state report from this year, State investigators determined that three staffers used excessive force against one of the teenagers held at the facility, who was pushed and repeatedly punched in the head after standing on a table. Vana and other local officials also have raised concerns over insufficient staffing, clogged toilets flooding cells, injuries sending boys to the hospital, worn-out socks and shoes, missing medicine, and reports of cellphones and other contraband smuggled inside. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, called for the facility’s operations to be suspended pending the completion of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, which is being done at the facility’s request.

After months of reporting problems to facility operators and state officials, Vana said this time she opted to release the photos to the news media to raise awareness about the concerns. She said the photos show what can happen when too few people are on duty at the facility. “These kids deserve better,” Vana said. “It’s insane. … The public has to know what’s happening.”

The state’s privately run facility is located next to the South Florida Fairgrounds north of Southern Boulevard. The detention and treatment center for “high-risk” youth offenders houses up to 118 boys, 13 to 18, from across the state. Teenagers held there continue their schooling in addition to participating in mental health and substance abuse programs. They can also receive vocational training. While the detention center is on land leased from the county, it’s a state facility and state officials are in charge of its operations. They have opted to outsource the operation to Youth Services International Inc.