Editorial: YSI whistleblowers deserve better than losing jobs

The latest in the shameful saga of Youth Services International (YSI) is not only that after raking in taxpayer millions in the most abominable way — hosting the reprehensible conditions, sex abuse and violence alleged while operating the Palm Beach County Juvenile Correctional Facility for teenage boys — the company has skipped out of Florida.

Now we also know that staffers who helped force YSI out are in court defending their reputations and livelihoods against the company.

No, we are we not surprised. In an inexcusable lapse, it should have been the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) that flushed YSI from Florida, rather than wink as the company denied all wrongdoing.

Instead, it took County Commissioner Shelley Vana, and others such as this newspaper, to confirm the mistreatment allegations at the juvenile offender lockup next to the South Florida Fairgrounds. Key to Vana’s pressure on DJJ, and YSI ultimately bailing on all its eight multimillion-dollar contracts around the state were brave YSI staffers such as Fredrick Robinson and Jean Roc who reported problems.

“He actually told us stuff that we knew, that nobody else knew, that we had (independently) found out,” Vana said of Robinson. “He never made up anything.” And while YSI was trying to discover who was leaking information such as the photo from a blood-stained room, “He repeatedly kept going back in, at great personal risk to himself and economic risk to his family.”

His is the kind of behavior that should be rewarded, not punished. Yet as The Post has reported, according to their whistleblower lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court, YSI suspended them without pay, trumped up allegations against them, ultimately fired them, and effectively destroyed their chances of getting hired through false and damaging information placed in their personnel files. YSI “vigorously denies all the allegations” by the employees, who are seeking back pay and damages for being punished in the exercise of their First Amendment rights.

All this again is reason to jettison the tired, repeatedly discredited arguments that “private companies always run it better” — while sacrificing human values for profit. In life-and-death situations such as kids’ lives at stake, why have even less accountability? Or is the argument also that there’s no reason to have any faith in DJJ?

Regardless of their wrongdoing, the reality is that the youths in such institutions still have time to change and deserve better. Vana says she has been encouraged by her visits to the renamed Palm Beach Youth Academy, but wisely adds, “To trust is good, not to trust is better; that’s my theory.”

That’s important because the facility now is being operated by Sequel TSI of Florida.

The company’s co-founder, John “Jay” Ripley, also was a founder of YSI, having served as its president, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. However far removed he was from YSI’s egregious offenses during his transition, an obvious question is why Ripley wasn’t one of those blowing the whistle.

The fact that the new boss is one of the old bosses screams for the vigilance and accountability inexcusably absent on YSI. One sign is that Sequel has not hired the true public servants being forced into court to defend that service.

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