Juvenile inmates' allegations of abuse increase, paper says


Published: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 1, 2002 at 12:00 a.m.
DAYTONA BEACH - Reports of alleged abuse of incarcerated children in Florida by corrections staff members nearly doubled over the past four years, a newspaper investigation found.
In the 1997-98 budget year - the last term before Gov. Jeb Bush took office and appointed former state Sen. Mill Bankhead to run the Juvenile Justice Department - there were 1,237 allegations of abuse from juvenile inmates.
There were 2,285 complaints in the 2000-2001 budget year, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported in a Sunday story.
During the same period, the number of cases that were verified as abuse or showed "some indicators" of abuse rose from 271 to 488.
The increase was noted in data compiled by the Department of Children & Families, which runs the Florida Child Abuse Hotline, at the request of The News-Journal. Records used for the report do not indicate the nature of the alleged abuse or where it occurred, only the facility where the child was housed when the complaint was filed.
Frank Alarcon, deputy secretary of Juvenile Justice, said the increases may be attributed to better interviewing of youngsters by department staff at the beginning of their incarceration. Staff members are trained to call the hot line if children report previous abuse, usually suffered in their homes, during orientation interviews, he said.
Juvenile Justice, however, compiles no reports of its own tracking abuse allegations by staff members. Only allegations of child-on-child abuse and child-on-staff abuse are tracked, Alarcon said.
Alarcon said that he has "very little faith" in the DCF report. He said the "some indicators" finding was too ambiguous.
The DCF closes reports with "some indicators" only when children exhibit evidence of abuse or neglect and investigators determine there's better than a 50 percent probability that caretakers are at fault, DCF departmental assistant director Linda Radigan said.
Alarcon said that the increase in abuse reports in some facilities may "indicate a culture in that facility in which kids walk in and expect to complain a lot."
Child welfare advocates blamed the problem on the juvenile justice system staff and their "get-tough" policies.
"I think they (the department) have a great majority of uneducated, ignorant people with bad attitudes," said Cathy Coory, who runs a Web site that urges parents to report abuse of their children by correctional facility staff.
In the 1997-98 budget year, there were 1,237 allegations of abuse from juvenile inmates. There were 2,285 complaints in the 2000-2001 budget year, The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

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