After death of boy, Florida moves to close its boot camps

New York Times/April 27, 2006
By Christine Jordan Sexton

Florida lawmakers decided yesterday to close the state's juvenile boot camps. The move comes more than three months after the death of a 14-year-old boy who was beaten by guards at a camp in Bay County.

The death of the boy, Martin Lee Anderson, prompted protests and is still being investigated.

Senate and House negotiators agreed yesterday to eliminate money for the four boot camps in the state. They would be replaced with four Sheriff's Training and Respect programs, in which guards would be prohibited from using psychological intimidation or physical force on offenders unless they were a threat. Physical force was not prohibited at the boot camps.

Under the agreement, which would still require passage by both chambers of the Legislature, the new camps would receive about $11 million in financing, about an additional $17 a day for each child enrolled. Gov. Jeb Bush Republican, said he was pleased with the deal and the additional financing.

Senator Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, said that the new program would benefit all the children of Florida and that Martin's death would leave a legacy.

"Martin Lee Anderson will become a figure in the civil rights movement, and maybe he was destined to be," Ms. Wilson said, noting that the boy had the same birthday as the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr., for whom he was named.

Martin died on Jan. 6, a day after he entered the boot camp. Guards were videotaped punching and kicking him. The medical examiner for Bay County, Dr. Charles Siebert, ruled after an autopsy that the boy had died of sickle cell trait. But his ruling has been questioned by the boy's family and by Mr. Bush.

A second autopsy has been performed, but the results have not been released.

Last week, Attorney General Charlie Crist sent a letter to the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, asking it to investigate Dr. Siebert for possible negligence involving three autopsies that, Mr. Crist said in his letter, "reportedly contained fundamental flaws."

Mr. Crist, a Republican candidate for governor, did not ask the commission to investigate Martin's autopsy but to focus on others that had come under scrutiny since Dr. Seibert's opinion was released.

Before being placed in the new camp program, an offender would have to undergo psychological and drug screenings. And the proposed law would require that staff members providing direct care complete 200 hours of training on laws relating to child abuse as well as training in emergency procedures.

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