HASTINGS, Fla. - The Hastings facility is for troubled teens and operated by G4S Youth Services, a private contractor.
The Hastings Youth Academy has been beset by troubles over the years, with lawsuits and allegations of uses of excessive force, and, now, two more escapes.
"We've had three separate events; March, April and now May," said, Chuck Mulligan, a deputy with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office. He said the April escape ended in a high-speed chase. The Academy is a moderate-risk facility near County Road 207 in rural St. Johns County. This week, two teenagers scaled the ten-foot fence around the recreational yard and escaped.
The May breakout ended after just a day. A dragnet involving 50 deputies found the two teens a few miles away from the academy. "It was right here - brought him back up through here," said Donovan King, the man who tackled one of the escapees.
"I just turned around and he was there and we went at it," the former high school linebacker said. He held him until deputies would put him in handcuffs.
"He did not resist," said King. "He did the right thing." He caught the escapee near Harris and Main streets in Hastings.
King, who works and lives near the academy, said he is not concerned.
"Not at all," he said.
In 2010, a state review of the Hastings Youth Academy gave the facility an 81 percent rating in Safety and Security.
In 2016, during another state review, the rating was simply satisfactory.
"Some of these teenagers are there for serious charges," said Mulligan, "some for less, but certainly enough to be incarcerated in a facility."
The two previously escaped teenagers are being held in the St. Johns County Jail for now.
The Department of Juvenile Justice has placed a freeze on admissions to the 64-bed facility while it evaluates additional contract action.
G4S Youth Services, LLC. had no comment for this story.
The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice provided us this statement:
“The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice takes the safety and security of youth in our custody as DJJ’s top priority, and we expect the same of our contracted providers. Earlier today G4S Youth Services, LLC, the contracted provider for Hastings Substance Abuse program, notified the Department of an escape incident by two youth. The contracted provider also notified law enforcement of the escape and will be coordinating with DJJ and local law enforcement to ensure the youth are apprehended quickly and safely.”
“DJJ is currently investigating the incident and staff’s adherence to policy and procedure, and should a failure be identified, staff will be held fully accountable for their actions. The program has been placed on an admissions freeze and the Department will be evaluating additional contract action.” – Secretary Christina K. Daly