Hastings Youth Academy remains unoccupied after flooding in Irma, recent rains

CHRISTINA.KELSO@STAUGUSTINE.COM Dumpsters filled with debris sit in the still flood-drenched lawn of Hastings Youth Academy on Wednesday, October 4, 2017. The Department of Juvenile Justice facility flooded Hurricane Irma and again in recent rains.

The contractor who runs the Hastings Youth Academy for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is still subject to a corrective action plan that was put in place earlier this year, and will remain so despite recent flooding at the facility.


Heather DiGiacomo, communications director for the DJJ, told The Record in a series of phone calls and emails this week that the detention facility on State Road 207 was evacuated prior to Hurricane Irma and those who were moved have not returned as the buildings flooded in both the hurricane and during the heavy rains last weekend.

In all, 61 youth were moved from the facility that is home to two programs — the Hastings Youth Academy and the Gulf Academy.

“Safety is our top priority and youth will not return until it has been determined to be safe,” DiGiacomo said in a Thursday email.

The facility drew the scrutiny of county officials in May after two teens jumped a fence in a recreation yard one afternoon, setting off an extensive search of the area that didn’t end until the next morning when the second teen was apprehended in Hastings (the first was apprehended the night before).

“That makes three escapes in 62 days,” County Commissioner Jeb Smith said at a commissioners’ meeting that morning.

It was the second time he’d voiced his concerns.

The first came at an April meeting following the escape of four teens, one of whom struck a 76-year-old guard in the back of the head in the middle of the night, took his keys and locked him in a room.

St. Johns County Sheriff’s deputies arrested the four about three hours later following a brief pursuit of a stolen pickup truck.

The spate of escapes prompted meetings between St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar and DJJ Secretary Christina K. Daly, and the contractor who ran the facility at the time, G4S Youth Services LLC (which was a division of G4S US until it was sold off in March 2017), was eventually put on a corrective action plan.

The plan was meant to “address a critical issue and major deficiencies identified by the Department related to the circumstances surrounding the recent escapes,” according to a letter Daly sent to County Attorney Patrick McCormack.

DiGiacomo said G4S Youth Services LLC was subsequently purchased by a company called TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, though a release on prnewswire.com suggests the company only changed its name.

Either way, DiGiacomo said in her Thursday email that, “to ensure that youth are kept safe and secure, TruCore is still subject to the corrective action plan.”

Asked whether the flooding, and temporary placement of the youth at an alternate facility would necessitate any adjustment to the timeline and goals in that plan, she said: “The Department will continue to monitor the corrective action plan and completion of required outcomes to ensure the safety and security of youth. Should the provider fail to adhere to the corrective action plan, the Department will determine whether additional contract action is necessary.”

A call placed to a representative at TrueCore on Wednesday was not returned.