A juvenile detention center in Fort Lauderdale is under fire for offering food as a reward for beating up a teenager in its custody.
A 13-year-old identified as A.R. was hospitalized for three weeks after staff at the Broward Juvenile Detention Center offered a “snack bounty” in exchange for beating him up. After A.R. was struck on the head by another teenager, staff left him in a solitary room that was scrubbed with bleach. Inhaling the toxic fumes, A.R. suffered a near-fatal asthma attack that landed him in the hospital. But his mother, Shantell McNair, wasn’t informed about the incident until her son was released 21 days later.
According to Gordon Weekes, the chief public defender of Broward County, A.R. is one of many abuse victims locked away at the detention facility. In a recent letter to the Department of Juvenile Justice, Weekes wrote that at least one kid was shackled and left in a scorching hot van for hours. He also reported that kids are living in a building that wreaks of sewage, which could be the result of toxic chemicals in the facility. Guards also assaulted the boys and denied them urgent medical care in the past.
Weekes believes many of the problems boil down to too few staff and not enough resources to manage so many people.
“They’re frustrated, they’re tired, and it’s a recipe for disaster when you have an overworked staff working with kids who have issues,” he told the Broward Palm Beach New Times. “The staff are overworked and underpaid, and as a result they have a short fuse.”
But the detention center isn’t unique in its treatment of detainees. Broward County as a whole has a well-documented history of abuses in its juvenile facilities. At the nearby Broward Academy for Girls, staff withheld food, sanitary items, and soap from youth in their care. Prior to shutting down in 2013, the Thompson Academy treated food as a reward for good behavior. Youth were beaten, sexually assaulted, denied sleep, and forced to fire their attorneys by staff.