Is Youth Services International Finally Out of Business?

After years of controversy over its management of juvenile facilities and treatment of juvenile offenders, Youth Services International has surrendered its contracts with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, as part of a lawsuit settlement that will also see $2 million coming back to Florida to compensate for misspent funds.

The total value of the for-profit company’s existing contracts was $90 million, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

The lawsuit, filed by former employees of the company, alleged that documents were falsified to reflect the hiring processes and services required in state contracts. Eventually, this caught the interest of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and the state joined the lawsuit.

Youth Services International denied all of the lawsuit’s claims, but in a statement to Florida papers said it was settling to “put the four-year litigation in the past and avoid the future cost and distraction of a continued legal defense.”

The litigation is now indeed in the past, but it’s unclear what kind of future Youth Services International has. Its website currently lists only programs in Florida, all ceased this week. A call to the company for comment was not returned by the publication of this column.

That fraudulent documents would bring down this Youth Services International seems akin to nailing Al Capone for tax fraud. Because, like Capone, Youth Services International has a long history of horrific acts that never quite caught up to it.

In 2001 – four years after it inked its first deal with Florida to run the Pahokee Youth Development Center – teen Bryan Alexander died of pneumonia at one of Youth Services International’s Texas boot camps. He had been coughing up blood for days, while guards accused him of faking it.

In the early 2000s, Florida Judge Ron Alvarez slammed the company for its operation of Pahokee, which he compared to a “Third World country that is controlled by … some type of evil power.”

When L.A. Times reporter Chris Kirkham (then with the Huffington Post) told Alvarez in 2013 that Youth Services International controlled 10 percent of the state’s juvenile justice placement contracts, he said, “I don’t know how the hell they still have business with the state.”

Here’s the Baltimore Sun‘s account of what happened when Maryland took back control of a juvenile facility called the Hickey School in 2005. The state had paid Youth Services International to run Hickey for 11 years at about $15 million per year:

After assuming control of the juvenile detention center in Cub Hill, state officials found it to be an out-of-control operation where housing units reeked of urine, walls were covered in graffiti and locks didn’t work on the doors of the rooms of dozens of potentially dangerous offenders.

You can read Kirkham’s exhaustive piece on the company by clicking here. It’s one of the those pieces you read, realize it’s from three years ago, and ask, as Alvarez suggested…”How the hell do they still have business?”

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at