ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM is taking a closer look at other facilities that have closed in the past couple of years following the abrupt closure of St. Johns Youth Academy on Avenue D in the St. Augustine area.
Days after a riot broke out when a staffer was attacked and allegations surfaced of staff being sexually involved with inmates and allowing fights, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) shut the entire facility down, transferred inmates and ended a contract with Sequel TSI.
The youth academy houses teen boys through the DJJ. Since closing on Wednesday, the boys were taken to other facilities across Florida.
According to the DJJ, four facilities in Union, St. Johns, St. Petersburg and Pompano counties privately contracted under Sequel Youth and Family Services have closed within the last four years.
The DJJ said its contracted provider Sequel TSI failed the ensure a safe environment at the St. Johns Youth Academy.
Sequel has had similar situations at other facilities.
In 2020, a 16-year-old boy died at Lakeside Academy in Michigan when a staff member held him on the floor for 12 minutes. In Florida, a facility in Union and St. Petersburg were closed following child abuse and child battery reports.
“When problems break out at these facilities in Florida, it’s my experience tracking this company over the last several years, that the DJJ doesn’t mess around,” Curtis Gilbert, a reporter with American Public Media, told News4JAX.
Gilbert said it does not surprise him that the St. Johns facility was shut down.
“I think what it shows is that Sequel the name might be gone, but the problems appear to be continuing or some very similar problems appear to be continuing under the new brand, which is Vivant Behavioral Health Care,” Gilbert said.
When News4JAX searched Vivant’s name in the state’s contract tracking system, nothing came up.
We reached out to the DJJ to receive clarification on the conflicting information, and it said it would get back to us next week.
Meanwhile, another set of juveniles were sent across the state to different facilities and unknown conditions.
“The kids who are in juvenile justice facilities like this, they may have committed delinquent offenses, but they are probably some of the most vulnerable kids in our society,” Gilbert said. “And so, it’s really important that they be kept safe in the facilities they’re sent to, and that can be a challenge. It’s really important for the government to check on these facilities.”
News4JAX also received a document that Sequel filed in Delaware court earlier this year that said over the past two years Sequel Youth and Family Services sold, transferred, or otherwise closed all of its former 40 operating facilities.
According to the state contract tracker, there are still active contracts in Florida.