Executives of the Colorado-based Cornerstone Programs Corp., which manages the Garza County Regional Juvenile Center in West Texas, have a history of involvement in troubled juvenile facilities in other states.
Cornerstone closed its Swan Valley Youth Academy in 2006 after a Montana State Department of Public Health and Human Services investigation found 19 violations, including neglect and failure to report child abuse and an attempted suicide.
"Intake process was particularly harmful to youth, and many have been made to vomit due to excessive exercise and drinking large amounts of water," Montana officials wrote in their findings.According to Montana officials, the state and Cornerstone had developed a corrective plan to keep the facility open.
"There was a number of charges of abuse filed against the director of the program and the second in charge," said Cornerstone chief executive Joseph Newman. The bad press hurt business and so it closed, he said.
Mr. Newman said state officials later cleared them of all the abuse charges, but Montana officials said they had no record of that.
In Texas, Cornerstone's Garza facility has been put under corrective action plans to improve staff training, documenting grievances and group therapy sessions. But the company has hired a new director and added new staff to Garza, which it began managing in 2003.
In 2005, a 17-year-old inmate at the facility became paralyzed after falling on his head in an attempt to do a back flip off a table. A lawsuit by his family against the facility, settled in 2006, alleged that a guard not only failed to prevent the stunt, but challenged the youth to attempt it. The officer was fired after the incident.
The Garza County facility consistently has received positive reviews by the Texas Youth Commission. "The Garza County Regional Juvenile Center is an exemplary program," a TYC monitor wrote in the facility's 2006 contract renewal evaluation – the same year Swan Valley closed.
Cornerstone was founded in October 1998 by Mr. Newman and board chairman Jane O'Shaughnessy, about six months after another company they operated ran into trouble in Colorado.
That other company, called Rebound, operated the High Plains Youth Center in Brush, Colo., which housed juvenile offenders from around the country.
In December 1995, a University of Illinois at Chicago psychologist hired by the state's Department of Children and Family Services issued a damning report on High Plains, and the agency later began removing its youth from the juvenile prison.
"Unit staffing practices appear to be a numbers game where management attempts to balance the competing pressures of safety and profit," wrote Dr. Ronald Davidson, a faculty member in the university's psychiatry department. The facility also had a "consistent and disturbing pattern of violence, sexual abuse, clinical malpractice and administrative incompetence at every level of the program."
A Human Rights Watch report later found that High Plains "fell short of reasonable, even minimal, performance."
Colorado officials closed High Plains in 1998 after a 13-year-old inmate from Utah committed suicide and a state investigation found widespread problems with physical and sexual abuse.
State officials also had uncovered problems at other Rebound facilities in Colorado.
Rebound's nonprofit Adventures in Change program did not meet requirements to be licensed for drug and alcohol treatment nor meet "acceptable standards for habitation," according to a 1996 state audit.
Auditors said the services, such as education, family counseling, vocational training and employment, "are not routinely provided."
In his resignation letter as the facility's clinical coordinator, Paul Schmitz wrote: "This is no longer a professional treatment environment ... and is not supported by the company as such."
In 1997, Florida officials severed the state's contract with Rebound to operate the Cypress Creek juvenile detention facility after repeated problems, including reports of disturbances that led to the arrests of several inmates for inciting a riot.
Rebound also had operated in Maryland, where it ran the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School briefly in the early 1990s. Mr. Newman was the deputy secretary of Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services from 1992 to 1994, according to the state. He joined Rebound in 1995.
The Hickey contract ended in 1993 after dozens of escapes, cases of alleged abuse and other policy violations.
Dr. Davidson, the Illinois psychologist, said the past performance of Cornerstone and Rebound should raise concerns.
"Anyone who had bothered to check the record of this corporation in Colorado and Florida and Maryland ... would have easily discovered a troubling history of incompetence and fecklessness," he said.
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