For as long as I have practiced criminal law, I always said that there would be a revolution in this country if the general public knew the truth about what goes on in our criminal justice system. This case, however, is not about a less than stellar judge or a prosecutor who can’t see the forest from the trees.
This is about jail guards who bribed juvenile inmates with honey buns and cheeseburgers to beat up other inmates… and they almost got away with it.
This article is intended to make you smell the horrible stench that is reaking in our juvenile confinement system. This article is about Governmental abuse that you only see in movies or expect to read about in third world countries. This article, is about the death of Elord Revolte and the death of Andre Sheffield.
ABUSE OF POWER; DERELICTION OF DUTY
According to an expose by the Miami Herald, there has been a long time practice of guards bribing inmates to act as enforcers in our jails. This is nothing new and happens all over the country in every jail and prison facility we have. However, this case is different because it concerns juveniles.
At the Miami jail facility operated by the Department of Juvenile Justice, guards are accused of bribing teen inmates with honey buns to beat up other inmates. In one report, a juvenile stated that he was threatened by a guard who told him if he did not do such and such, the guard would “put a honey bun on [his] head” – meaning a bounty, not an actual honey bun.
Another juvenile explained that the bribes weren’t limited to honey buns. In some cases, teen inmates were rewarded with cheeseburgers, pizza, left over Chinese food, and other fast food. Inmates explain that at the juvenile jail, where food is disgusting and not exactly served in super-sized portions, a person with a honey bun is like a millionaire and is therefore incentivized to do whatever is asked of him.
When asked by his Public Defender why he would agree to beat up another inmate for a Snickers bar, another juvenile chillingly responded, “You don’t know… You’d do a lot for a Snickers.”
This is because our juvenile jail facilities are decrepit, dangerous, and underfunded. They are not a place where any child should live – even temporarily.
THE DEATHS OF ELORD REVOLTE AND ANDRE SHEFFIELD
In Elord Revolte’s case, his fellow juvenile inmates “complained” about him to the guards. One guard’s response was, “You gotta do what you gotta do.” It is alleged that the guards gave their “nod” and “wink” to the inmates to handle their problems internally.
As a result, almost two dozen teens gang attacked Revolte and beat him to a pulp.
The great guards at Miami’s juvenile jail not only sanctioned this crime, but did nothing to aid Revolte or provide him with medical help. In fact, Revolte was not even taken to a hospital until the next day and died thereafter.
Liability for Elord Revolte’s death can be pinned on the State of Florida in three ways:
- For failing to protect Revolte from violence
- For willfully and knowlingly permitting inmates to attack Revolte
- For failing to provide Revolte with timely medical care
To make matters worse, these guards are also accused of falsifying reports. To make it worse than that, three of the five who were fired were actually jail supervisors!
Clearly there is a cultural/systemic problem in this jail.
Andre Sheffield was a 14 year old inmate at the Brevard County juvenile detention center when he died there this past February. During his illustrious stay at this facility, Andre suffered from bacterial meningitis, which causes inflammation of the membrane that encases the brain. In the hours that lead to his death, Andre soiled himself, complained of headaches and stomach pain, limped, and fell over.
Like Elord Revolte, Andre Sheffield was not given timely medical treatment. Whether no one noticed, no one cared, or they just sat on their asses while he died, his case is yet another example of the unacceptable conditions found in our juvenile jail facilities.
Operating a jail is an awesome responsibility. It is also a gargantuan task riddled with pitfalls at every corner. Few responsibilities are more challenging than securing, housing, feeding, and caring for a building full of criminals.
For a number of reasons, things get even more complicated when those “criminals” are also children.
First of all, even though they are kids, they are in custody for committing the same types of offenses as their adult counterparts. This includes sex crimes, violent crime, burglaries, drug dealing, aggravated battery, gun offenses, etc.
Secondly, even though they are juveniles, many also share the same mental health problems, personality disorders, drug addiction, and general dysfunction as adult offenders.
However, this is where things get hairy – even though they share these similarities, in many respects, managing their behavior can be even more challenging than managing adults by virtue of the fact that they are kids.
Aside from having the inherent issues that have driven them to offend, whether that is poverty, addiction, or a personality problem, they also suffer from “young man disease” – meaning, to make matters worse, they also have zero impulse control, no maturity, absolutely no respect for authority, and little regard for consequences.
While I am painting with a very broad brush and there absolutely are kids who do not fit this mold, the truth is, managing the baddest kids in town in one building together is an unbelievably difficult task.
It is also one that causes guards and staff members to develop an attitude of their own. They get jaded and they learn quickly that inmates will game you, hurt you, and push limits to get away with as much as they can.
Resentment builds quick.
However, this is the business of operating a jail. There is nothing new about the issues inherent to detaining an inmate population, providing them with sanitary living conditions, safety, health care, and nutrition. Thats the job.
The problem is that correction agencies, like any other entity in our society, develop a culture over time. In this instance, that culture became deviant. It developed alternative mores that allowed for the behavior and inaction that lead to the deaths of these two boys.
When it comes to juvenile detention, a higher level of professionalism and a greater amount of oversight is desperately needed. A child who soils himself, while limping and falling over should not be ignored. Someone needs to give a damn. So what if you get played once in a while by a faker? Be the bigger person. Be the professional.
The other issue our juvenile facilities suffer from is a grotesque lack of adequate funding. These facilities are disgusting and decrepit. A child should not be placed in such destitute living conditions that he is willing to literally kill a person for a Big Mac or a honey bun – as they were in this case.
Sadly, juvenile facilities are some of worst looking jails I have ever seen.
However, if we want to change things and prevent these disasters in the future, we need more funding to pay for better facilities, better guards, more effective training, and most importantly, oversight and compliance with professional standards.
Many of these kids may be very bad, but trust me, if you don’t handle them properly at this stage, it will only get worse. In fact, it will get exponentially worse.
A kid who goes to juvenile jail for a burglary when he is 14 is the same kid who will escalate his behavior to robberies when he is 18. All you have to do is take a look at the juvenile records of adult offenders to see how early their “career” takes off.
Even if you disregard the ethical value of treating inmates humanely, we as a society have a vested interest in handling juvenile offenders the right way. Helping them is literally helping ourselves. Instead, we throw them into a hellbox where they are pitted against each other for treats.
How disgusting is that?
While I personally hope these guards are prosecuted and forced to serve time in the very prison system they corrupted, I too am jaded. I know it always takes one of two things for the people with little voices to be heard: Someone has to die or someone important has to go through it too.
With this expose, two deaths have been publicized in a very loud way. Hopefully important people who make decisions will decide to fix this one.
Before I finish, I must give special acknowledgement to the humble public defenders who brought these issues to the limelight and the attention of a Miami Herald expose. Giving a loud voice to the muted and the unwanted is what representation is all about. You guys give heart and soul to the practice of law.
Keep it up… some of us give a damn too.