Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Court hearing re Justin Caldwell's abuse at Dozier: Interview with Mark Caldwell

April 17, 2007

Rick Reno, attorney for Justin Caldwell, asked the Judge for 60-day extension - his extension was granted. Mr. Reno needs more time to prepare his case, he said. Mr. Reno believes Justin has a very strong Civil Rights case.

After the hearing in Marianna, Mr. Caldwell drove to see his son at Jackson County Jail - across the street from Dozier school for Boys where his son was abused. He was asked to go to Dozier to speak with the administrators there. Mr. Caldwell said the atmosphere at Dozier had changed dramatically. There was more calm, the boys appeared less stressed. He learned that all of the boys know what is happening and are thankful for the stand Mr. Caldwell has taken to advocate for these children.

Mr.Caldwell met with Isaac Williams - Mr. Williams was one of the new adminstrators hired from an outside group to monitor the program "24/7" said Mr. Caldwell. "I told him Justin's story, how he was abused when he was young and how I didn't know about it. And how Justin has been locked up in this system for 5 years, abused and mistreated. Mr. Williams didn't know what to say other than he felt like crying," said Mr. Caldwell.

Department of Juvenile Justice Administrator, Rex Uberman, was there as well. Mr. Uberman indicated he does not want Justin back at Dozier, that he wants him to go home with his father.

Dozier has been in the spotlight before. Just recently six employees were terminated after a sex scandal swept the facility. Four more have been terminated as a direct result of the abuse suffered by Justin. Mr. Uberman said more will be fired, some will brought up on charges of child abuse and on failure to report abuse they witnessed.

Mr. Caldwell had a chance to share his thoughts about what he believes is wrong at Dozier. He told Mr. Uberman and Mr. Williams that the length of stay for many of these boys is excessive. Uberman said they are addressing this issue and that they will need to work with Judges because it is the Judges who are sentencing these boys for long periods of time. However, that is only partially true, as we have seen in Justin's case and in Christopher Sholly's case. Often times the boys are sentenced for a period of time and their time is extended repeatedly. Uberman said it will take a team effort. He agreed that while some kids need incarceration, others can be helped through counseling at home, with their families.

Mr. Caldwell also addressed the issue of telephone calls. Parents receive calls from their children through a phone system and are charged an average of $20 for each 10 minute call. Sometimes, Justin likes to call his father three times in an evening. At that rate, Mr. Caldwell is spending $60 per day to talk to his own son while he could be placing the call himself though a long-distance service with unlimited long-distance calling. This has resulted in some parents not being able to speak to their children as much as they would like. Uberman said this issue will also be addressed. Parents should be encouraged, not discouraged, from speaking to their children. Parent and family involvement is a very important part of the healing process for these children and isolating them from their families does not serve to help them.

We believe progress is being made - we must press forward to be sure that changes continue to be made, that those responsible for abusing children are fired from their jobs, are not allowed to work with children in the future, and are prosecuted to the extent of the law. Those who witnessed the abuse and did not report it should, too, be held responsible for their actions.

CAICA believes that together we can - and do - make a difference.

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