How Miami Herald Uncovered FL Abuse of Teens

A series of more than two dozen stories detailed a juvenile justice system rife with problems. It is rare in today’s journalistic climate to be afforded the time and funds for deeply reported projects.

A security camera captured footage of 17-year-old Elord Revolte being attacked in the Miami-Dade, Fl., Regional Juvenile Detention Center. He died within two days, but no one was charged. Footage of the assault anchors Fight Club, a multimedia investigative series by the Miami Herald focused on Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice, the Columbia Journalism Review reports. The Herald revealed a system rife with problems: Staffers organized and bet on fights between kids; workers were hired despite their criminal backgrounds; 12 juvenile detainees died since 2000. Over and over, poorly qualified corrections workers baited detainees into fighting, often by dangling food: Snickers bars, Chinese food, and honey buns from vending machines. Guards were found to have sexually abused or begun relationships with detainees.

Fight Club was published online October 10, and in print on October 15, as a pull-out section with 25 stories. Carol Marbin Miller, the Herald’s senior investigative reporter, had uncovered injustices and deaths at the state’s juvenile detention centers. “I had written about [problems in the system] extensively, and nothing had changed,” says Marbin Miller. “Then we started hearing about this crazy thing called ‘honey bunning.’ ” A year earlier, Marbin Miller and colleague Audra Burch published Innocents Lost, an investigative series that scrutinized nearly 500 cases in which children had died despite having had contact with Florida’s Department of Children and Families. More recently, the Herald analyzed 10 years of data covering use-of-force reports, child abuse investigations, inspector general investigations, law enforcement certification records, employee background screenings and lawsuit notices. Marbin Miller says the state was remarkably cooperative in turning over records, including video. She says it’s rare in today’s journalistic climate to be afforded the time and funds for deeply reported projects.