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Lawmakers Push for Juvenile Justice Reforms

February 8 2013 | WMFE - A group of Florida lawmakers says a measure passed in 2011 to let counties operate their own juvenile justice centers isn't working. The legislators say the facilities need more oversight from the State Department of Juvenile Justice.

The 2011 law was intended to help counties work more efficiently by letting them create their own standards for operating their juvenile justice centers. A number of counties have done so, and in some places it’s worked out, but David Utter, with the Southern Poverty Law Center says in other places, such as Polk County, that’s not the case.

Utter says the center there is operating under questionable standards.

“These standards allow harsh chemical restraints. Painful electronic restraints and other adult focused jail practices that are entirely inappropriate and dangerous for children.”

The Polk County facility is currently wrapped up in a lawsuit filed by the SPLC because of concerns over operating standards.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and other officials deny most of the claims against the county's facility.

Democratic lawmakers, Senator Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Representative Mia Jones of Jacksonville are teaming up to bar such treatment at any juvenile corrections facility in the state.

The pair has filed legislation to repeal some aspects of the 2011 law so all juvenile detention centers would have to operate under the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s standards.

Senator Joyner says passing the bill will be a good move all around.

“Senate Bill 506 means sheriffs must follow strict guidelines developed by the Department of Juvenile Justice and remain under DJJ’s oversight, dramatically reducing taxpayer’s exposure to liabilities and children’s exposure to dangerous conditions.” Joyner said.

But Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters says she supports the current law. She says counties are responsible for most of the cost of running their own juvenile detention centers and letting them figure out the most efficient way to do it makes sense.

Walters says her department is working with all parties to ensure the state’s youth are safe and well served.



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