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Florida juvenile justice worker says facility negligent after teens escape; State DOJJ launches investigation

The state is temporarily suspending admissions to the Jacksonville Youth Academy program, launching an investigation into how four teens escaped over the weekend.

On Thursday the state announced the launch of an official investigation after four juvenile inmates escaped from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice over the weekend. 

The department is also planning to temporarily suspend admissions to their Jacksonville Youth Academy program.

In an EXCLUSIVE interview with On Your Side's Casey Feindt, a staff member at the juvenile facility is speaking out telling First Coast News the escape could have been prevented. First Coast News is protecting the identity of the employee because of the sensitive nature of this report.

The four juveniles escaped from the facility located ay 4501 Lannie Rd. on Saturday night after staging a fight in their dorm and attacking staff members who tried to stop it. The teens then broke into the control room, released the front door, and stole one of the employee’s vehicles. Three of the escapees were caught. One is still at large. The state's investigation is being conducted by the Office of Inspector General.

“That’s why the car was taken because the keys weren’t secured properly,” the worker told First Coast News. “The supervisor, when I arrived, his face was red ... he did sustain some injuries. One of the staff members on shift was a young lady and … and the other two males on shift did nothing.”

The incident could have been prevented entirely if the boys didn’t have access to a vehicle, the worker said.

RELATED: UPDATE: Police searching for last escaped juvenile inmate, stolen vehicle; 3 inmates captured

The worker says employees are supposed to put personal items in their locker before entering the facility, but that didn't happen the day of the escape.

The only way the inmates had access to the vehicle is because one of the female shift employees left her keys in her purse on the floor inside the building, the worker tells First Coast News.

The worker goes on to say that during their stay in the correctional facility, the four escapees repeatedly violated their "contractual behavior agreement" by starting fights with other teens and staff members.

“They put them on a contractual behavior agreement and then they violate the agreement and nothing happens,” the worker said. “What’s the purpose of the agreement? What kind of message are you sending to your own police?”

The worker says the escape is indicative of his growing security concerns at the detention facility.

“There are times where they won’t schedule a person just to save on the overtime,” the worker said. “It’s a necessary evil sometimes because you have people on vacation, people that call in sick - my standpoint, and I don’t know all the particulars - is that, that’s the cost of doing business.”

At any given time, the facility is mandated to provide one youth service care worker for every eight youth being housed there, according to the worker, but more often than not, he said those protocols are bent to satisfy budgetary requirements.

“I understand that we have a budget and all these other things, but however, I think the employee’s safety is very important.”

The worker suggested the state make more random, unannounced visits to the facility and conduct inspections to catch the many violations there. Such inspections could have prevented Saturday's escape, the worker says.

“They (state) can do business better, but for whatever reason, they choose not to,” the worker said.

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice released the following statement Thursday:

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has commenced an immediate investigation into the escape of four youth at Jacksonville Youth Academy, a residential commitment program run by contracted provider TrueCore Behavioral Solutions. Three youth have been apprehended and we stand ready to assist law enforcement in any way that we can to ensure the remaining youth is apprehended quickly and safely. 

The Department takes escape incidents such as these very seriously, and if we discover through our investigation that failures of policies and procedures have occurred, we will take contract action against this provider. At this time, admissions to the Jacksonville Youth Academy program, have been suspended.