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Investigation finds troubles at state's Department of Juvenile Justice

Florida lawmakers say they will demand answers

Still image from video of Jacksonville detention center
Still image from video of Jacksonville detention center

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A two-year investigation by the Miami Herald found life and death troubles at the state's Department of Juvenile Justice, and state lawmakers say they will demand answers.

An officer is seen beating a 17-year-old with a flashlight in a video from a Jacksonville detention center. The youth was allegedly for asking for water. The officer was hired despite being on probation for a battery.

In a video, an officer wasn't moving to stop a fight, he was reportedly refereeing it.

DJJ Secretary Cristy Daly was already scheduled to appear at a budget meeting Wednesday when she was asked about the investigation.

"I will not deny, or discredit, or downplay some of the horrible incidents that have happened," Daly said. "We respond appropriately to those. We hold people accountable."

Most detention centers for teens are run by private contractors.

"Do your vendors do psychological evaluations on the people they hire?" Daly was asked.

"I don't believe that they all utilize, I believe there are different screening tools," Daly said.

Sen. Jeff Clemons said the problem is the state turned over its police powers to private companies.

"A lack of accountability, the inability to make sure we are doing it correctly. And here, we're talking about kids," Clemons said.

One state attorney who was leaving the meeting was asked if he had any pause about ending kids to DJJ. He said, "Yes and no. What else am I going to do? They got to clean up their their act."

The chairman promises a thorough follow-up.

"I want to speak to her on the record in front of the committee asking difficult questions, specifically about hiring practices," Sen. Jeff Brandes said.

Gov. Rick Scott has already asked for a 10 percent pay hike for Juvenile Justice workers.

The Legislature is asking DJJ to voluntarily allow lawmakers to make surprise visits to juvenile centers. It's not specifically allowed under current law, but is likely to become law this coming session.