State attorney’s office investigating St. Johns Youth Academy after ‘riot situation’

The DJJ ends contract with Sequel Youth Family Services, a private contractor that was running the facility.

The News4JAX I-TEAM is reviewing the private contracts from the company that ran the St. Johns Youth Academy.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM is reviewing the private contracts from the company that ran the St. Johns Youth Academy.

Meantime, the State Attorney’s office is interviewing people about what’s being described as a “riot situation” at the facility in October. An 18-year-old inmate attacked a staffer, who the inmate said was having sex with other inmates, according to reports from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

There were allegations of staff allowing fights and having sexual relations with the youth, and St. Johns Youth Academy was forced to close.

The Florida Juvenile Justice Association is working with the Department of Juvenile Justice and said pending the investigation, they and the Inspector Generals’ office will hold those individuals accountable.

We spoke with the Florida Juvenile Justice Association’s Executive Director Christian Minor. “When there are bad actors, they don’t represent the youth care workers that see thousands of kids that come through our Department of Juvenile Justice provider walls each year and go on to lead lives of success,” Minor said.

A statement from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice reads:

“Make no mistake about it, the actions taken at St. Johns Youth Academy were reprehensible, unacceptable, and have no place in Florida. We have removed all youth from this program and have relocated them to programs more capable of providing the high-quality of care we expect. Relocated youth will be placed in alternate programs based on the services best suited to their individual treatment needs. Additionally, an investigation of this incident is currently underway. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice directly contracts with private providers to manage the complete day-to-day operations of each facility, and monitors and oversees each contract to ensure our high standards of care are met.”

The Department of Juvenile Justice ended its contract with the private provider Sequel Youth and Family Services, a private contractor that was running the facility. It is now known as Vivant Behavioral Health Care.

Under the name Sequel, it had poor reviews, both in Florida and in other states including child battery, child abuse, and a child killed.

The senior managing director for the Juvenile Law Center says ultimately the state is responsible for the children.

“If I were in charge of the juvenile justice system, I would be, you know, more than reluctant to employ a provider that has seen such poor results, or as had so many allegations of violence and harm around the country,” Jessica Feierman from the Senior Managing Director of the Juvenile Law Center.

According to the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System, Sequel, now Vivant, is getting paid about $41.5 million for services. The total payment to date is just over $35.8 million.

“I am wildly confident that our providers here in the state of Florida will rise to the occasion,” Minor said.

While the kids are at another facility – it’s unclear if they’ll ever return to the St. Johns Youth Academy – or if that facility will reopen.

Some Florida Department of Juvenile Justice facilities are still contracted by the company – according to their website. The Department of Juvenile Justice says they are evaluating all contracts with this provider.

The facilities have had staffing issues statewide – and Minor says there are efforts to get their minimum wage increased from $15 to $19.

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A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.