State imposes admissions freeze at Hastings Youth Academy following escapes

The Department of Juvenile Justice says there is now an admissions freeze at Hastings Youth Academy until it can come up with a corrective action plan.

The DJJ wants the contractor, G4S Youth Services, to “address identified critical deficiencies in youth supervision.” The freeze comes after a third escape in as many months.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is no longer providing additional security after being on the premises for several weeks.

Action News Jax has learned the youth academy is installing new hardware and making personnel changes.

Farm Boy Produce sits just blocks away from Hastings Youth Academy.

Owner Mike Smith said it wasn’t until recently that he started to question the facility’s security.

“I just think that they need adequate security so that they can't get out,” Smith said.

For the past three months, inmates have either escaped or attempted to escape.

In an April incident, one teen inmate hit a staff member on the head, took his keys and let other inmates out.

Action News Jax obtained exclusive video showing another inmate getting arrested after escaping last month.

“We were checking the buildings here to make sure they didn't go into one of them,” Smith said.

A January 2016 escape prompted an inspector general investigation after two inmates put their transport driver and a passenger in choke holds using their handcuff chains and hands.

The investigation found that one of the staff members “did not properly supervise the two youth during transit." It also found that transit vans should be equipped with screens that separate the staff from the inmates.

Smith worries the incidents could escalate if something isn’t done.

“They could've came here and held us or did something to us so, yeah, it did bother me,” Smith said.

In the incident reports Action News Jax obtained officials noted which escape received media attention.

The DJJ says if the security contractor does not adhere to a corrective action, it’ll take other steps that include termination.

The teens committed to the Hastings Youth Academy are 13 to 19 years old and have been diagnosed with major mental disorders.