Weekend Read: Trauma, not rehabilitation, in juvenile detention centers

Elord Revolte died a tragic death in Florida’s juvenile justice system after he tried to get a carton of milk without permission.

In a gut-wrenching series called “Fight Club,” The Miami Herald investigated more than a decade’s worth of records from the state’s juvenile justice system and found a culture of inconceivable violence that has resulted in at least 12 deaths of detained youths since 2000.

It was such violence that cost Elord his life.

After Elord stood up without permission to get milk in the cafeteria of the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center, the officer instructed another boy to “punish [Elord] for his misconduct,” according to a detainee interview conducted by authorities. Another detainee corroborated the account. When the youths returned from the dining hall, at least a dozen boys converged on Elord. He was beaten for just over a minute.

Elord was placed on concussion alert and was supposed to be monitored. But “no staff had contact” with him for hours after the assault, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s inspector general.

Shortly after 10 a.m., Elord told an officer “his chest was stabbing him and he could not breathe,” the Herald reported. At 3 p.m., he still had not seen a nurse. Forty minutes later, the staff reported a medical emergency. Elord was taken to the nurse’s station. At 5:17 p.m., he was checked into a hospital emergency room.

Shortly after 11 p.m., the 17-year-old was dead.

A torn vein under his left shoulder was determined to be the cause of death along with other “blunt force injury” to his head, neck and chest. Elord’s injury was “highly unusual,” the medical examiner told prosecutors, noting it was something “more associated with a motor vehicle collision than a fight.” The youth also had bled from his lungs, heart, adrenal gland, thyroid, trachea and rib area, according to the Herald.

To this day, no one has been brought to justice for Elord’s death.

The deadly attack is an example of the brutality found in juvenile lockups that are supposed to be rehabilitating young people. We know that childhood trauma increases the likelihood of arrest, which means that Florida is undermining the very goal of its juvenile justice system. In fact, the state reports that 45 percent of all detainees wind up back in the justice system within one year.

We’ve seen horrific conditions like these before. At the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi, guards frequently instigated youth-on-youth violence. Last year, after a six-year lawsuit by the SPLC, Walnut Grove was finally shut down.

It’s long past time for juvenile justice officials in the Deep South to take seriously the violence that children endure in these facilities. As Shelley Vana, the former mayor of Palm Beach County, asked the Herald: “How many bones have to be broken, how many kids have to go to the hospital before we actually do something?”

The Editors.

P.S. Here are some other pieces we think are valuable this week:

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Photo Credit: Tiffany Tompkins