Report: G4S-run youth facility should be closed in wake of riots

A new grand jury presentment calls the Highlands Youth Academy in Polk County a disgrace.

The presentment, which comes in the wake of a riot there nearly two years ago, says the facility should be closed and that the legislature should bring back so-called "juvenile boot camps."

Monday, Polk's sheriff and state attorney echoed those sentiments.

"The way juvenile justice is done in the state of Florida has to undergo radical change for the benefit of our kids," explained State Attorney Jerry Hill.

The grand jury report is scathing.

"The buildings are in disrepair and not secured, the juvenile delinquents are improperly supervised and receive no meaningful tools to not re-offend, the staff is woefully under-trained and ill equipped to handle the juveniles in their charge, and the safety of the public is at risk," the presentment reads.

The Department of Juvenile Justice contracts with a private firm, G4S Services, to operate the facility. The contract pays $40 million over 5 years.

The grand jury investigation began in March 2015, after an inmate escaped with five staffers in the room.

Hill said the escape was easy because security is so lax.

"The fence has no razor wire, no sensors, no detection devices on those sensors," Hill added.

Both Hill and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the inmates are not learning respect or discipline, and they state, G4S Services discourages employees from reporting violent acts.

"They can't even report when the juveniles attack them," Judd told reporters. "They have to do it on their own time. Are you kidding me?"

The secretary of DJJ, Christina Daly, told FOX 13: "I think what we have done is put in safeguards throughout our system. Anytime we have an incident at a facility, there's always lessons learned."

Daly also tells FOX 13 the department investing more than $2 million into renovating the facility and has made improvements to the program.

Hill says the grand jury's report is being sent to the governor and the attorney general to make them aware of what's going on at the facility.