State to shut down girls facility

Published August 19, 2006

UMATILLA - A private high-security facility for teenage girls will be closed by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice after multiple reports of mistreatment and neglect.

A review of the Umatilla Academy for Girls, which opened in 2005, found an employee had dragged one resident down a hallway by her ankles, workers failed to send another girl to a hospital after she swallowed 2-inch nails, and a caretaker delayed calling for help after a third overdosed on medication.

Teens on suicide watch also were left unsupervised, according to the review. Police received many calls from the facility, mostly complaints of girls beating one another or staffers.

"We won't wait for (another) incident to happen," department spokeswoman Cynthia Lorenzo said Thursday. "We're stepping in and shutting Umatilla down."

The department had a contract with Diversified Behavioral Health Solutions to house up to 96 violent or mentally ill teens, all convicted of serious crimes. The state stopped sending new inmates there in January after the ankle-dragging episode resulted in the arrest and firing of the employee involved.

Juvenile Justice officials gave the facility 90 days to shut down. The 29 remaining Umatilla inmates will be transferred to one of the state's five other facilities for female, high-risk juvenile offenders.