PCWG, 1114 Brandt Drive, Tallahassee FL 32308

Florida Civil Commitment Center, Arcadia, Florida

March 5, 2007 Herald Tribune
Inside a privately run treatment center here for pedophiles and rapists who have completed their prison sentences, where they are supposed to reflect on their crimes and learn to control their sexual urges, bikini posters were pinned to walls. Two men took their shirts off, rubbed each other’s backs and held hands, while others disappeared together into dormitory rooms. Some of the sex offenders appeared to be drunk from homemade “buck” liquor secretly brewed and sold here. And some of the center’s employees, who openly ignored the breaking of rules (“As long as they are happy, we let them go,” one explained), reported that a high turnover rate among staff members was mostly because of female employees leaving their jobs after having had sex with the offenders. These and other observations were included in a memorandum composed in 2004 by six employees on loan here from Pennsylvania. They had been dispatched by the Liberty Behavioral Health Corporation, which ran the facility, the Florida Civil Commitment Center, and a facility in Pennsylvania. Nineteen states have laws that allow them to confine or restrict sex criminals beyond prison in a trend that is expanding around the country, with legislators in New York last week announcing agreement on a new civil commitment law there. The courts have upheld the constitutionality of such laws in part because they are meant to furnish treatment where possible. Most of the states run their own centers to hold and treat such predators, generally with meager results, but at a time when private solutions are popular for prisons, toll roads and other state functions, a few have teamed with private industry. Yet as the story of the center here in Arcadia reveals, even a $19 million partnership between the state and a company that describes itself as “a national leader in the field of specialized sex offender treatment and management” failed to meet a central purpose: treating sex offenders so they would be well enough to return to society. “It was like walking into a war zone,” Jared Lamantia, one of the visiting workers who signed the memorandum, recalled in an interview. “The residents in that place ran the whole facility.” The memorandum is among thousands of pages of public and private documents about the Florida center reviewed by The New York Times, providing a rare window into the lives of civilly committed sexual predators and the people who guard and treat them. While programs like Florida’s are popular because they keep sex offenders locked away past their prison terms, they cost far more than prison — in the case of Florida, on average twice as much — with no measurable benefit beyond confinement. For more than seven years, Liberty was in charge of almost every facet of the Florida center, where more than 500 men are held beyond their criminal sentences in a crowded former prison surrounded by cow pastures. That ended last June in a cloud of claims and counterclaims, investigations and legislative hearings. By the end, after the state did not renew Liberty’s contract, the Florida Department of Children and Families was virtually at war with the company, with each side pinning blame on the other — the state accused of failing to properly finance the center, the company accused of failing to manage it. “The place is a cesspool of despair and depression and drug abuse — of people being lost,” said Don Sweeney, a mental health counselor in St. Petersburg who treats some former residents of the center, reflecting on Liberty’s tenure there. Many outside experts, even some of the center’s critics, said the state’s insufficient financing of the center made Florida as much to blame as Liberty for the many failings, many of which are common in other states. Florida spends less than $42,000 a year per resident, one of the lowest rates in the country. “There was no money to support that facility and to do what had to be done,” Dr. Robert Bellino, a psychiatrist who worked at the center here, said of the company. “It’s a political football. They were always turning the screws on Liberty — ‘Cut this, cut that, don’t spend this, don’t spend that.’ ” Ambitious Private Contractors: As legislators across the nation have answered public outrage about heinous sex crimes with civil commitment laws, a bevy of companies and well-paid specialists have cropped up like constellations around the expanding demand. Liberty Behavioral Health and Liberty Healthcare Corporation, affiliates with common ownership, have emerged as the most ambitious private contractors in the commitment center arena. As recently as last year, the affiliates had accumulated contracts worth up to $26 million a year in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida, which was the biggest both in terms of compensation and responsibility. Growing out of a company that provided emergency room employees to hospitals starting in the mid 1970s, Liberty Healthcare Corporation was founded in 1986 as a provider of mental health, developmental disability and primary care services. In its earliest days, it had no experience treating sex offenders and, its officials said, there was never a particular moment when company officials said to one another, “Let’s go into the sex offender business.” Yet as Shan Jumper, Liberty’s clinical director in Illinois, tells it, after “analyzing market trends and seeing what areas they could jump into,” Liberty executives apparently recognized the potential. By 1998, the company, which is privately held and based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., won its first contract to provide services inside a civil commitment center, in Illinois. Rick Robinson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Liberty Healthcare, described the move as a natural outgrowth of its work, which included creating an adolescent sex offender unit in an Arkansas hospital in 1995. The states that have hired private companies reason that outside experts have more background in the complex realm of detaining and treating sex offenders than most public workers, and in several states where Liberty holds contracts, officials say they have been impressed with the company’s expertise. But at the Florida center, even beyond a string of embarrassing failures — an escape, the death of an offender after a fight with another over a bag of chips, a sit-in that the state ultimately quashed with hundreds of law enforcement officers — the treatment record was poor. In Liberty’s tenure, only one of the hundreds of men here progressed far enough in therapy to earn a recommendation from company clinicians that he be released. At various points, many residents were not attending the group therapy specifically addressing sex offending; in May 2005, 35 percent of the center’s 484 residents fell into that category. In written responses to questions from The New York Times, as well as court depositions, legislative testimony, e-mail messages, letters and memorandums, Liberty defended its treatment record, blamed Florida as insufficiently financing its commitment program and, for years, failing to define exactly what it expected of Liberty. Early Praise and Promise: Liberty’s early tenure in Florida won praise from independent evaluators who said the treatment program showed promise. Over the first four years the state asked for few changes, and on matters such as the treatment of mentally ill residents, had a “just do the best you can” attitude, as Susan Keenan Nayda, vice president of operations for behavioral health programs at Liberty, said in a court deposition. But problems began to surface publicly in June 2000 in dramatic fashion when a resident escaped in a helicopter that an accomplice had landed inside the center’s perimeter. The helicopter crashed after departing with the escapee, who was caught 26 hours later in a canal with the pilot, 2 handguns and 28 rounds of ammunition. The pilot, a longtime friend, had visited the escapee 10 times in the five months before the escape. The bizarre incident raised worrisome questions and the first hints of a conflict over the center’s combined goals of security and treatment. Too few Liberty staff members were in the yard when the escape occurred, a report by state officials found, and the center’s director had ordered razor wire removed from a security fence because, he said, the wire was damaging volleyballs from a nearby court the residents used. The report also complained about the state’s role, questioning why corrections officers, who were in charge of security on the perimeter, were unarmed. Commitment centers across the country have wavered between following the legal mandate to run a therapeutic program, as laid out by the courts, and the politically acceptable alternative of a more prisonlike one. In Florida, the conflict emerged again and again. The state’s emphasis swung, at various points, toward and away from a “correctional” approach, company officials suggested. At one point, Ms. Nayda told a Florida State Senate committee that even she was not entirely sure what the center was trying to be. “There’s a little bit of confusion,” Ms. Nayda said. “What is this place? Is it a prison? Is it a mental health center? A residential treatment facility where people are clients? What is it? We ask that question sometimes too. We really don’t have a lot of guidance around what it is the state wants the facility to be, and we would encourage the state to look at that.” By the end of 2000, the state moved its civil commitment center from Martin County on the state’s East Coast to its current home here in Arcadia, a 14-acre compound with eight dormitories and other buildings. From there, the population rose swiftly, even as staff levels mostly stayed put. Liberty repeatedly sought more money from the state for the center’s operations, for special treatment of its large severely mentally ill population and for creation of a supervised release program. Asked to respond to Liberty’s complaints about financing, Rod Hall, director of the mental health program office for the state Department of Children and Families, said, “The funding provided to operate the facility was the amount negotiated and agreed upon by Liberty prior to its signing of the contracts.” Liberty’s monthly reports began suggesting that the company was feeling the crunch. The reports noted frequent troubling incidents: residents having sex, assaulting staff members and each another, hiding knives in their rooms. Liberty also said it faced an unusual challenge in Florida, where hundreds of the center’s residents are not formally committed, but awaiting trials for commitment. These “detainees,” the company said, often reject treatment to focus on their legal battles. Some critics, meanwhile, began questioning the treatment. Ted Shaw, a forensic psychologist who evaluates civilly committed sex offenders, complained that Liberty held men back in treatment as punishment for minor infractions. Liberty officials deny the allegations, but Michael Canty, a child molester who was detained at the center but was never formally committed, concurred with Dr. Shaw, saying Liberty staff members would “harass, taunt — try to get you in trouble so you would get kicked out of treatment.” Rising Tensions, and Violence: By the time the six workers from Liberty’s facility in Pennsylvania arrived here in 2004, tensions inside the center and with the state authorities were reaching a peak. In April of that year, a mentally ill man jumped off the center’s roof and was injured after staff members rushed at him to get him down. In June, a resident stabbed another 12 times and the staff had residents mop up the blood, destroying evidence before outside law enforcement officials arrived, an internal report showed. “It was basically a free-for-all prison, out of control,” said Josh Stiles, another of the visiting workers from Pennsylvania. Liberty officials said they investigated and immediately took “appropriate actions” regarding all that their Pennsylvania employees reported. But they also said the atmosphere in the center at the time was “probably very conducive for allegations that were either unfounded or exaggerated,” and noted that a second group from the Pennsylvania facility, including its director, returned to Florida several weeks later and reported no similar problems. Nonetheless, Lynda Sommers, a consultant hired by the state to monitor the facility over a number of years, also found it in disarray in the period after the second Pennsylvania group. Ms. Sommers reported suspected sexual relationships between staff members and offenders, staff members who slept on the job, crumbling facilities, and vague policies on punishing troublemakers and treating the mentally ill. Liberty’s own internal investigator, Kenneth Dudding, was also deeply critical of hiring decisions for low-level staff members, whose salaries started at a base rate of $12.89 an hour. “You could have worked at Wal-Mart last week, they put you in front of a computer to read policy for a few hours, then they send you to a dorm and let you go,” said Mr. Dudding, who left after clashing with Liberty’s management. As for female security workers, Mr. Dudding said they were easily manipulated by the sex offenders. “It’s like putting candy in front of a baby,” he said. Mr. Dudding said he ultimately called a state whistle-blower’s hot line. The inspector general of the Department of Children and Families investigated and issued stinging reports, saying that the facility’s safety director had tried to cover up wrongdoing by tampering with evidence, that an employee was suspected of selling marijuana, and that alcohol was being made and sold there. Liberty officials said the safety director was fired for “failure to properly function in her role” before they received the inspector general’s critique, and they said they fired the worker suspected of drug sales — on whom no contraband was found — for an unrelated reason. Then a group of residents, angry when the fire marshal demanded that they not have so many personal items, moved into a yard. For months, the staff could not persuade them to go back to their rooms, creating a scene one law enforcement officer called “Woodstock gone amok.” Liberty said it first asked for help from the Department of Corrections and was turned down, only to ultimately get a response the company called “excessive.” In February 2005, several hundred corrections and law enforcement officers in riot gear arrived and restored order. That spring, Liberty’s requests to the state grew more insistent. The company asked for $31.1 million for the next fiscal year; it received $18.7 million, the same as the year before. By April, having described an “alarming” set of “chronic and serious” issues at the facility, the state was preparing to end its relationship with Liberty. New Company Takes Over: In the end, the struggle between security and treatment may help explain Liberty’s doomed tenure at the Florida center. “I had imagined that we would be trying to do research or publish or be innovative or at least use state-of-the-art equipment,” said Dean Cauley, a former therapist at the center. “When I arrived, the equipment wasn’t being used, tests were outdated and treatment was very much secondary to maintaining security.” Liberty officials said that treating patients had always been their company’s reason for being. Most of the company leaders, including Dr. Herbert T. Caskey, the founder, were originally clinicians, not business people. If states wanted simply to lock up, not treat, the worst sexual predators, Kenneth Carabello, Liberty’s director of regional operations for California and the western United States, said, “We’d let somebody else do this.” Despite the center’s history, Don Ryce, the father of Jimmy Ryce, the 9-year-old boy whose 1995 rape and murder spurred the Florida Legislature to adopt a civil commitment law in his name three years later, said the law’s “overall intention” had been accomplished. “There are a lot of people who are confined who otherwise I guarantee you would be out there reoffending,” Mr. Ryce said, though he added, “I’m not going to pretend there aren’t serious problems that need to be addressed.” As Liberty departed, Florida picked another private company, the GEO Group Inc., to run the center here. The GEO Group, once known as Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, has more than 23 years of experience running prisons. Of 63 centers GEO operates worldwide, 58 are correctional and detention facilities. Last fall, under GEO’s watch, a new glimpse of turmoil began emerging. Early one morning, a resident said he was attacked by another in his bunk. His screaming, kicking and banging on his door went unanswered for almost 15 minutes before staff members responded, other residents said. GEO officials said workers from the company and the Department of Corrections “responded promptly” to what GEO described as a “resident upon resident” fight, an assessment echoed in a DeSoto County sheriff’s report. But some 100 residents signed a letter calling for an end to the practice of housing two residents in a single room. The center “is supposed to be a mental health facility, not a prison,” the residents wrote. “We are to be treated as patients, not state convicts.”

July 13, 2006 Sun-Herald
The Florida Civil Commitment Center near Arcadia underwent a changing of the guard this week -- without changing many of the guards. A new contractor, the GEO Group of Boca Raton, has taken over the operation of the facility from the former contractor, Liberty of Philadelphia. But GEO has hired 182 of Liberty's former employees, under a 90-day probation agreement in which the employees have to prove themselves, said Timothy Budz, GEO facility administrator. "We did that in three days," Budz said Wednesday. "The transition has progressed very well." Established by the Legislature's 1998 Jimmy Ryce Act, the center houses some 545 violence sex offenders. It is located 10 miles east of Arcadia in a former state prison.

June 19, 2006 Miami Herald
Holding the razor in his mouth, Ernest Contrillo ran the blade over his right wrist seven times as blood flowed from the crooked wounds. It wasn't the first time he mutilated himself inside the Florida Civil Commitment Center. A year earlier in the center, Contrillo, 52, lost his left arm to a gangrene infection he coaxed along by severing his flesh. State records show that for four decades Contrillo had sought comfort in pain, yet he managed to obtain razor blades and cut himself numerous times in what's supposed to be a secure mental health facility for Florida's most menacing sexual predators. Since it opened in 1999, the center -- created to treat men for their sexual disorders after serving prison terms -- has struggled to meet its most basic mission, let alone deal with the medical needs of men like Contrillo. After his arm was amputated, he spent 10 days in the hospital because caregivers did not keep him on antibiotics. In fact, a four-month review of monitoring reports, court cases and internal documents show so many breakdowns in medical and mental care that drugs often were dispensed without doctors' approval, men languished without treatment, and in some cases, those with severe psychological disorders were forced into solitary confinement -- some never getting treatment for sexual problems. Gaps in care were often noted during state reviews, but problems continued. One man was given a powerful antipsychotic drug even though he was not diagnosed with a mental illness. Another was left in an infirmary for days while urine in his bedpan collected mold. ''All I ever heard from everybody was that they were sexual predators. But they're also human,'' said Beverly Babb, a former nurse who quit the center in 2004 after a year. Said Douglas Shadle, a psychiatrist who left because of conditions: ``This is an asylum-era institution that has no place in this century.'' Despite problems, state lawmakers repeatedly refused requests to adequately fund the center. But they waived laws that require the civil commitment facility to meet state medical and mental care standards. Seven years later, those decisions have exposed the state to a class-action lawsuit that places the entire program in jeopardy and exposes taxpayers to millions in potential court fines, a Miami Herald investigation has found. Consider: • For years, medical care has been plagued by shoddy record keeping, failure to provide basic checkups, delayed treatment of serious illnesses and potential violations of state and federal laws. • Crucial medications, such as powerful psychotropic and cancer drugs, were often not available or provided to residents without proper documentation. • Records show the center's use of solitary confinement defies state and federal guidelines. • As the facility began filling up with mentally ill men, the private contractor hired to run the center, Liberty Behavioral Health, asked the state five times for more money and staff to provide psychiatric care. Each time, the state balked. • As the center's population grew by more than 300 percent, its funding increased just 46 percent, leaving it to operate on a budget that's less than half of those found at other mental health facilities in Florida. • The facility's staffing levels are now less than half of similar programs in other states. ''Anytime offenders are put in the position where they can pretend to have the moral high ground, then we have done something very stupid,'' said Don Ryce, the father of 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce, whose 1995 abduction, rape and murder led to the creation of Florida's civil commitment law, known as the Jimmy Ryce Act. BLAME GAME With Liberty's contract set to expire June 30, the Florida Department of Children & Families -- the agency that runs the program -- has the difficult job of cleaning up a treatment center it allowed to deteriorate during the past seven years. DCF lays most of the blame for the center's woes on its Pennsylvania-based contractor and has decided to manage the center until January 2007, when the international corrections company GEO Group is slated to take over the contract. But Liberty, which holds similar contracts in four other states, says the agency's decisions and the state's refusal to adequately fund the program caused it to falter. ''[Now] that the Department of Children & Families has chosen to publicly denounce our company and turn Liberty into a scapegoat for a legacy of its own poor decisions, we are prepared to speak out,'' Sue Nayda, Liberty's vice president, wrote in a 9-page letter to The Miami Herald on June 9. Liberty says that since the program began, the DCF ''abdicated its responsibilities to establish formal, fundamental administrative rules, regulations or standards to govern the program,'' leaving Liberty to fend for itself as it struggled to treat offenders with a shoestring staff. CLASS-ACTION SUIT Florida now faces a class-action lawsuit that claims the center is failing to provide constitutionally adequate care. One other state with a similar program, Washington, has racked up $10 million in court fines after losing a similar class-action case in 1992 -- and it spends twice as much per offender as Florida. Already, the center in Northwest Florida lost one state case over its disciplinary methods. Four offenders at the facility filed suit in DeSoto County Circuit Court in 2002, claiming the center violated their rights by placing them in confinement without telling them why or allowing them to contact lawyers. Ruling in favor of the offenders, DeSoto County Circuit Court Judge Vincent T. Hall found the center not only broke rules governing mental health facilities, but also state prisons and standards set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court.

June 2, 2006 Sun-Herald
When its contract expires June 30, the contractor operating a state treatment center for sexually violent predators near Arcadia will be shown the door. The Florida Department of Children and Families, which manages the Florida Civil Commitment Center, will not retain Liberty Behavioral Health to run the facility until a new contractor can be hired, said Tim Bottcher, spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families. The process to award a new contract and build a new facility could take six months or more. To run the facility in the interim, the state will assign perhaps dozens of Department of Corrections officers from prisons in surrounding counties to provide security. And a temporary employee service will provide other workers, Bottcher indicated. Technically, Liberty is still in the running for the new contract. But the DCF's inspector general in a past investigation cited numerous incidents of violent assaults, drug abuse, alcohol bootlegging and inappropriate behavior involving both residents and staffers. "I don't think it's any secret we haven't been happy with Liberty's performance as far as the current contract is concerned," Bottcher said. The change in center management has Liberty's local employees worried about both their jobs and the treatment of the residents, said John Brosnihan, a security supervisor for Liberty. Liberty was the only bidder at the time the center was started. A competing firm had declined to bid because of the facility proposed for the center -- in a defunct state prison, an officer of the firm, Geo Group, said in a past interview. In 2005, the Legislature passed a bill that authorized the DCF to hire a contractor to both build and operate a new 600-bed center. The DCF's bidding process was derailed, however, after Liberty challenged the bid specifications for alleged bid-rigging. That litigation was recently resolved and now the bidding selection process will get under way, Bottcher said. Liberty and the Geo Group have submitted bids. Bottcher said a site for the new facility has not been identified, but it will likely be located within the Arcadia area. Prison Health Services will be hired to provide health care and clinical treatment until the contract is awarded. The DCF is still "in talks" with a temporary employment service to fill other roles in the interim, Bottcher said.

February 3, 2006 Sun Herald
Chronic problems with the way Florida deals with its sexually violent predators by detaining them in a prison-like institution called the Florida Civil Commitment Center have been reported to state officials, lawmakers and the governor for years. So far, little has changed. But a four-part series of articles about the center published this week by the Miami Herald may change that, said Ken Dudding of Port Charlotte, a former internal affairs investigator at the facility who is featured in the series. Now, Dudding said he hopes the Herald's exposure of the problems will spur Gov. Jeb. Bush and the Legislature to reform the facility. Dudding cites a phone call he received Thursday morning from the show "60 Minutes" to arrange an interview next week. "I mean, you can report it to the governor, report it to the Legislature and nothing happens," Dudding said. "All of a sudden, an article like this comes out, and (state officials are) taking notice. At least they can't claim ignorance." A spokesman for the program said "60 Minutes" does not comment on stories it may or may not be doing. Dudding, a retired Charlotte County sheriff's deputy, worked for Liberty Behavioral Health, the company hired by the state to run the facility, for a year in 2004-05. Dudding resigned citing a lackadaisical response by Liberty's administrators to his investigations. His investigations often found that staffers turned a blind eye to incidents in which residents committed physical assaults, stabbings, sexual assaults and drug and alcohol abuse.

January 30, 2006 Miami Herald
For seven years, Florida taxpayers pumped more than $100 million into the Florida Civil Commitment Center, a facility set up to treat the mental disorders of the state's most dangerous sexual predators. What taxpayers got: a place where child pornography arrived in the mail, stashed inside transistor radios. Bags of marijuana came in care packages, stuffed in the guts of peanut butter jars, and men brewed gallons of homemade alcohol under the noses of a shoestring staff. The cornerstone of a program named after a slain 9-year-old boy, the center eroded into a place where boredom, violence and the fog of drugs and alcohol became as common as group therapy sessions -- with one man dying after a fight over a bag of Cheetos. Overcrowded and short-staffed, with less than half of the men actually in treatment, the center lies at the heart of what is wrong with the Jimmy Ryce Act, an investigation by The Miami Herald found. ''It's a terribly, terribly run program,'' said Kelly Summers, a former investigator for the Florida Department of Children & Families, who uncovered a slew of problems at the center. ``Because no one wants to appear soft on sex offenders, no one wants to address what's going on down there.''Among the newspaper's findings: • Employees struggle to manage a facility plagued with fights, substance abuse and suicide attempts. Guards have been caught covering up mistakes by erasing security tapes and altering reports, while others have been accused of selling drugs and having sex with offenders. • While the state has sent more men to the center, staffing hasn't kept pace because the Legislature refuses to provide enough funds -- creating a dangerous disparity that reached an all-time high in the months before authorities were forced to conduct a raid last February to restore order. • The number of clinicians also has failed to keep pace with the ballooning population. Since the facility opened seven years ago, psychologists' caseloads have quadrupled, leaving hundreds of men pacing the yard, dwelling in doldrums and stirring up trouble. • Nearly three dozen men who suffer from severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder receive little or no specialized treatment -- let alone therapy for their psychosexual disorders -- a direct violation of federal law, several civil rights attorneys say. • Meanwhile, a treatment center originally slated to house 460 men now holds more than 520, creating more tension. Liberty Behavioral Health, the private company that runs the center, insists that security is now under control and that problems at the center are no different from those found at any institution of a ``correctional nature.'' ''To characterize the facility as rife with trouble . . . is a gross exaggeration,'' the company wrote in a response to The Miami Herald's findings. But the center never was intended to be a correctional facility, according to the legislation. In fact, the Department of Children & Families, which hired Liberty to operate the center, told The Miami Herald that it has ''identified numerous deficiencies in Liberty's performance,'' including inadequate supervision and ''mismanagement'' of security. Several men recently interviewed at the center by The Miami Herald said disruptions and fights continue at the facility.The boredom and frustration felt by the offenders boiled over on Feb. 9, 2005, when more than 300 officers clad in riot gear and armed with billy clubs and pepper spray began to assemble before dawn. At sunrise, they descended on the cluster of concrete buildings tucked into the sprawling prison compound that houses the treatment center. Their mission: Restore order. Conditions at the center had deteriorated so badly that a lockdown was under way to force the men to obey orders from the state fire marshal. Dozens of offenders refused to leave the yard, where they dragged mattresses from their dormitories and draped sheets on extension cords running from buildings to television sets outside. Minutes after storming the center, police confronted men who were brandishing broom handles. In one dorm, officers had to call for reinforcements and shoot bursts of chemical agents into the air to regain control. The raid was a culmination of events building inside the facility for many years. By 2004, the men outnumbered employees more than 2-1, a disparity so lopsided that many guards felt inclined to let bad behavior pass, according to internal documents and interviews with several workers. ''As long as they are happy, we let them go,'' one staff member told corporate officers from Liberty Behavioral Health during a tour of the facility in July 2004. According to an internal memo obtained by The Miami Herald, Liberty's officers described fights breaking out between drunken offenders, bikini posters hanging in the rooms of sexual offenders, and a facility where ''residents appear to have the run of the cafeteria.'' In one packed dorm, men outnumbered staff members 45-3. To this day, Liberty has had difficulty attracting and keeping staff members because of stressful working conditions and because Arcadia's labor pool is so small, according to state investigators.The DCF had to pay the Department of Corrections $2 million to ship in 300 officers and conduct a raid on the center just to get the men to comply with orders from the state fire marshal. During the raid, officers searched offenders' rooms and found more than eight gallons of homemade alcohol and other contraband. After the raid, the Legislature provided an additional $2.6 million last May for more security at the center. But experts say that's not enough to fix the center's woes. Last October, a man housed in the quad died after a brawl over a bag of cheese curls. Daniel Donnelly, 38, sat at a table in the bay area of F Dorm Quad 2 when Alfredo Roebuck, 48, called in payment for two rolled cigarettes he had given to Donnelly earlier. Owed to Roebuck: a bag of Cheetos. Donnelly, five feet four inches tall, 134 pounds, had a history of reneging on barters, common at a facility where many men have no money. He refused to give the bag to Roebuck -- who was five inches taller and nearly 100 pounds heavier. Offenders in F Dorm say no guards were watching when Roebuck and Donnelly began to scuffle. State reports say there was one staff member present, a 51-year-old therapeutic assistant responsible for monitoring all four quads in the dorm while most offenders were at lunch -- a deficiency noted in reports conducted after Donnelly's death. After the altercation, Donnelly's condition rapidly deteriorated. He later slipped into a coma. Paramedics airlifted him to Lee Memorial Hospital, where he was placed on life support. Donnelly died nine days later, after his family decided to remove his feeding tube. Donnelly's death came as no surprise to Kenneth Dudding, a former Washington, D.C., police detective, hired by the center as an internal investigator in March 2004. During the next year, he conducted investigations at a facility that had completely broken down as an inadequate, untrained staff struggled to handle hundreds of men. In one case, Jerome Wagner, an offender with severe mental illness, was able to climb onto the roof of one of the buildings in April 2004. Instead of trying to coax him into climbing down, staff members on duty rushed him. So Wagner jumped off the roof and injured his left leg. He was later treated by DeSoto County emergency medical workers. In another case, a two-time sexual offender named Jorge Delgado stabbed offender Marshal Watson 12 times, using a 10-inch metal shank with a white-taped handle in October 2004. After the incident, staff members ordered offenders in the dorm to clean up the crime scene with bleach, ruining an investigation by the DeSoto County Sheriff's Office, according to an internal report. In both cases, Dudding went back to review security tapes and read reports of the incidents but found that they had been erased or tampered with. ''During these investigations, staff immediately began covering up what happened -- destroying tapes, altering reports. I was being hampered,'' Dudding said. He said that when he complained, he was told that he was being too aggressive. Fed up after just two months on the job, Dudding blew the whistle on the facility in May 2004. Investigators from the DCF's Office of Inspector General spent the next four months picking the facility apart. Records show that they corroborated nearly every problem outlined by Dudding: widespread use of alcohol and drugs, sex among offenders and staff members. There were also instances of tampering with security tapes and incident reports and a general lack of control, the inspector general's report stated. In addition, the investigators reported that marijuana arrived in care packages, with some stashes stuffed in peanut butter jars. Cocaine was found in one room but was flushed down a toilet by a staff member. No one was charged. But after DCF investigator Summers and her boss issued their report in September 2004, little changed at the facility at first. ''When my supervisor and I sent up our preliminary reports, we were surprised about the minimal attention it got,'' Summers said. She said they pushed harder to help persuade the DCF to conduct the raid in February, after offenders refused to comply with orders from the state fire marshal. ''Part of the problem is that DCF is not equipped to handle a facility that is responsible for violent criminals,'' she said. The Legislature provided $2.6 million more for additional staff members after the February raid, and the DCF says it contracted with the DCF last October to monitor safety and security at the center. But even with the additional money and oversight, problems persist. Donnelly was killed four months after the increase, while Delgado repeatedly stabbed another man with a metal shank in December. ''The program doesn't work because it's not designed to work,'' said Dean Cauley, a former clinician at the center. ``This was a harebrained idea and an expensive idea that really wasn't thought out very well, and now we are seeing the result of it.''

December 15, 2005 Sun Herald
It was 42-year-old George Williams' hobby to tend to a patch of flowers outside his dormitory at the Florida Civil Commitment Center. But his devotion to his flower garden nearly got Williams killed Friday. Williams was stabbed seven times with a homemade knife. The stabbing came after he got into a fight with another center resident when a basketball bounced into his garden, according to a DeSoto County Sheriff's Office report. Friday's stabbing fits a pattern indicating that chronic understaffing and mismanagement by administrators have created an insecure environment, according to Ken Dudding, a former internal affairs investigator for Liberty Behavioral Health, the contractor that runs the facility for the Florida Department of Children and Families. "My point is, this (Delgado) is a guy that goes around stabbing people -- and he can find a knife laying around anyplace," Dudding said in a phone interview Tuesday. Located 10 miles east of Arcadia, the center houses 520 sex offenders who have completed their prison terms but have been deemed by the state to still pose a risk of re-offending. The center was established in a former state prison under the Legislature's 1998 Jimmy Ryce Act. The act calls for the civil commitment of sexual predators for "care, control and treatment." Dudding resigned in January 2005 after a year with Liberty. He said he investigated about 100 violent incidents involving bodily harm, as well as other allegations of drug dealing, alcohol smuggling and nepotism. Dudding claimed that his supervisors stymied some of his investigations and failed to adequately discipline misconduct by some of the staffers. Resident John Curry, who has filed numerous complaints with the DCF and the courts on behalf of himself and other residents, described the current atmosphere within the facility as "a battle zone." "We're erupting because they're tightening down the hatch intensely and there's no release, so we react to the least little thing," Curry said. "What it boils down to is we do not have adequate staff to operate this facility." Curry said facility staffers often complain their ranks are understaffed to the point they can't handle incidents effectively. Liberty's contract requires 179 employees. The number of vacant positions could not be obtained Tuesday.

April 8, 2005 St. Petersburg Times
Sexual predators too violent to be released into society would get a new 600-bed, privately built facility under a plan the state Department of Children and Families is quietly pitching in the Legislature. The proposal, largely unnoticed until Democrats discovered it in the Senate budget, comes six months after state officials discovered rampant lawlessness at the Florida Civil Commitment Facility near Arcadia, a facility run by Liberty Behavioral Health Corp. of Pennsylvania. A February report by DCF's inspector general revealed that residents made and abused homemade alcohol. It said fights between residents were common. The report also found Liberty employees compromised an investigation of a stabbing by ordering residents to clean up before law enforcement arrived.

September 30, 2004 Sun-Herald
Florida's commitment center for sexually violent predators has serious problems with employee nepotism, cover-ups of staff mismanagement, marijuana smuggling, money laundering, and a lack of professional response to violent incidents -- and the contractor that runs the facility needs to do more to solve them. That's the conclusion of Sheryl Steckler, inspector general for the Department of Children and Families, the agency responsible for the Florida Civil Commitment Center. And the department itself, headed by Luci D. Hadi, Interim Secretary, echoes that conclusion, in a statement issued Wednesday by DCF spokesman Tim Bottcher. "The performance of the contractor with regard to these issues is unsatisfactory," the department stated. "The residents of the Florida Civil Commitment Center are dangerous, and it is vital that the facility be secure and safe at all times.
The inspector general concluded that facility safety director Tiffany Lane failed to document incidents of alleged misconduct or mismanagement by staff. In some cases, she also destroyed evidence, including erasing videotapes. The DCF has hired Liberty Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania to run the facility under a $50 million, three-year contract. Lane and several staffers worked to cover up evidence or discard complaints to thwart internal investigations into the handling of a half-dozen incidents, the investigative report states. In several instances, employees who complained of misconduct or mismanagement by Lane or members of her clique were given demotions, suspensions and terminations, the report indicates. The investigation "demonstrated how Ms. Lane either failed to document or destroyed documents that she felt were unfavorable toward or certain staff members, including her own mother whom she supervised," wrote Summers. The report also cites that a half-dozen employees have criminal records. Sworn statements from residents also revealed that racial tensions had led to stabbings and beatings. Also, residents and employees told investigators that marijuana use inside the facility is rampant. Since the investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has opened an investigation into drug dealing and money laundering. Also, the inspector general plans to investigate additional allegations in a separate investigation, according to the report.

May 12, 2004 AP
Eight sexual predators detained under the Jimmy Ryce Act have sued the state, claiming they are getting inadequate treatment for their mental health problems, which leaves them with little chance of being released. The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers on Friday named the Department of Children & Families and Liberty Behavioral Health Corp., the company contracted to run the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia.The suit claims Liberty Behavioral Health is short staffed and fails to provide adequate, individualized treatment. Some detainees spend as little as two hours per week in treatment, according to the suit.

Liberty Health Care
January 14, 2011 News Observer
Three out-of-state companies are jockeying for a potentially lucrative state contract to house and care for people with mental illness accused of crimes that include murder. Facing massive budget cuts, the state Department of Health and Human Services last month issued a "request for information" seeking private firms interested in operating a facility for about 90 forensic patients. Some of those patients are housed at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, which is set to close. The patients include those facing charges or found not guilty by reason of insanity for offenses ranging from first-degree murder to misdemeanor trespassing. Staff members at Dix also provide the psychiatric evaluations that help determine whether an accused person exhibiting signs of mental illness is competent to stand trial, a responsibility that could now be entrusted to a private contractor. District attorneys and disability advocates have expressed serious reservations about the plan, citing the sensitivity of the job and the state's checkered history of privatizations with mental health care and prisons. A DHHS spokeswoman this week disclosed the names of three firms that have filed proposals: The GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla.; MHM Services of Vienna, Va., and Liberty Healthcare of Bala Cynwyd, Pa. Records show that all three companies have hired well-known Raleigh-based lobbyists to help them get the contract, which is potentially worth millions of dollars: ♦Since 2009, GEO has been represented by Franklin Freeman at McGuireWoods. Freeman previously served as a secretary of correction, an associate justice on the N.C. Supreme Court and senior staffer to Govs. Jim Hunt and Mike Easley. ♦MHM Services hired lobbyist Mark Beason in 2008. Beason, along with his father Don Beason, were fined for lobbying violations last year. Once considered among the state's most powerful lobbyists, Don Beason left the profession because of his entanglements with disgraced House Speaker Jim Black, who pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. ♦Liberty Healthcare hired George M. Teague, a law partner at Nelson Mullins and longtime lobbyist for insurance companies and bankers. The News & Observer reported in May that Lanier Cansler, the DHHS secretary who was a lobbyist, had been meeting with lobbyists for at least three companies interested in taking over chunks of the state's mental health system, including the care of those in the forensic unit.