Rather than protecting and rehabilitating troubled youth inmates, guards at juvenile detention facilities sometimes encourage them to be dangerous thugs, used to discipline other detainees or for the guards’ amusement. A center in Miami is one of the latest examples.
Officers at New York’s infamous Rikers Island oversaw a system of fight clubs that led to a Department of Justice investigation in 2012. And in Wisconsin, abuses at a youth facility included similar revelations in 2015.
A federal grand jury indicted a guard on Monday accused of being a ringleader in what prosecutors described as a “bounty system” that resulted in the death of a detainee, the Miami Herald reported.
Authorities arrested officer Antwan Johnson before announcing the indictment. Prosecutors charged him with one count each of conspiracy and violating the civil rights of Elrod Revolte, the 17-year-old detainee who died in 2015 after Johnson directed a gang of youths to attack him.
Johnson was one of several officers who encouraged violence at the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, according to the indictment. He rewarded detainees for assaulting other juveniles to help the officers enforce obedience and respect through fear. The indicted officer gave television privileges to the youths who participated in the beating of Revolte in a day room at the facility.
A Herald investigation uncovered a fight clubs at juvenile facilities in the state. In a series of articles, the newspaper reported numerous cases of guards ordering teens to beat up other teens, as well as cases of sexual exploitation.
Civil rights organizations called for an end to what is reportedly widespread abuse of mainly African-American children in Florida’s juvenile justice system.
“The NAACP demands that Florida undertake a complete and full investigation that holds everyone from the top to the bottom accountable for their failure to ensure humane treatment of our children,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP president, in a statement after news of the abuses surfaced.
Black youth are disproportionately involved in the juvenile justice system, according to youth.gov. They make up 16 percent of the overall youth population, but they represent 30 percent of juvenile court referrals and 58 percent of youth admitted to state adult prison.