Jessica Giard reports that Florida-based Youth Services International is closing the Chamberlain Academy, a youth detention and treatment facility in Chamberlain. This private facility, licensed by the state Department of Social Services, has housed an average of 22 juveniles over the past year (its capacity is 40) and supported 37 jobs in Chamberlain.
YSI has a history of bad news related to its for-profit youth detention facilities. In 2000, YSI gave cash settlements to get five of six juvenile plaintiffs to drop their lawsuits over sexual abuse by insufficiently vetted and supervised Chamberlain Academy employee James Johnson. YSI initially tried to get out of the lawsuits by claiming immunity under the South Dakota law protecting public correctional facilities from prosecution, but Judge Lawrence Piersol nixed that ploy.
A child under YSI's care at its Forest Ridge facility in Estherville, Iowa, died after being denied adequate medical care for ten days, as staff seemed more concerned that the inmate was faking illness. An Oklahoma attorney visited YSI's Forest Ridge in November 1995 and found "excessive restraining of youths, group punishment for individual acts, unwritten rules, inadequate access for youths to the courts, and a poor policy for youths to air grievances." (Forest Ridge is now owned an operated by an apparently local non-profit organization.)
The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class action lawsuit against YSI in October, 2010, for alleged abuses of youth at YSI's Florida facilities. YSI arranged a sealed settlement. YSI continues to run a number of juvenile detention facilities in Florida and to skirt rules while profiting significantly from that state's privatization of juvenile corrections:
Florida’s permissive oversight has allowed Youth Services International to essentially game the system since entering the state more than a decade ago. Despite contractual requirements that the company report serious incidents at its facilities, YSI routinely fails to document problems, sanitizes those reports it does submit and pressures inmates to withhold evidence of mistreatment, according to interviews with 14 former YSI employees.
“The state is not doing enough,” said Wanda Williams, a former staffer at YSI’s Palm Beach Juvenile Correctional Facility, who quit in 2010 after growing disgusted with the violence and squalid conditions she saw inside the prison. “Because if they were, that place should have been shut down by now” [Chris Kirkham, "Prisoners of Profit: Florida's Lax Oversight Enables Systemic Abuse at Private Youth Prisons," Huffington Post, 2013.10.23].
Last year, a federal report found almost one in three inmates at YSI's Paulding Youth Detention Center in Dallas, Georgia, reporting sexual abuse. In October, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice closed the Paulding facility. State officials say that closing was about declining juvenile detainee numbers, not sexual abuse problems. Georgia has maintained contracts with YSI to run two other youth detention centers.
In 2012-2013, the South Dakota Department of Social Services contracted with Youth Services International to provide services for juveniles placed through Corrections, Child Protection, and Tribal Court at the Chamberlain Academy at a rate of $142.94 per child per day. Given YSI's track record and the unseemliness of for-profit prisons, perhaps South Dakota can find a better use for that money now that YSI is leaving the state.