02/08/2011

Florida's Planned Budget is Good News for the State and Juvenile Justice Reform

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced that he plans to shift resources from expensive residential facilities to more effective and efficient community-based programs and sanctions that will save the state tens of millions of tax dollars. This is good news for Florida.

Scott's budget plan is in accord with recommendations first reported in a publication we wrote with Florida TaxWatch titled Fiscal Responsibility: The Key to a Safer, Smarter, and Stronger Juvenile Justice System. That report called for restrictions on placing children with misdemeanors in juvenile prisons and holding providers accountable for how long juveniles stay in such programs.  The report found that in 2008-09 alone, over 1,100 children were incarcerated in expensive, ineffective residential care facilities for nothing more than a misdemeanor.
 
The budget shows a clear commitment to creating a more efficient and effective juvenile justice system in Florida and we applaud him for that. This plan will save Floridians tens of millions of tax dollars and enhance public safety. According to the governor's budget proposal, eliminating misdemeanants from Florida's juvenile prison system will save $41.5 million. 
 
Not only does the governor's budget allow for the reduction of expensive, wasteful juvenile prison beds, it reinvests $17.2 million over the budget's two years in community and evidence-based programs for youth. We believe the governor's proposed budget puts resources where they are needed most, which not only saves Florida residents money, it makes us safer too.

Juvenile justice research shows that expensive and intensive residential treatment should be reserved for serious offenders. Misdemeanants and other low level offenders pose little risk to public safety, and placing them in expensive residential facilities consumes scarce resources that would be better spent on high-risk youth.

After Texas, North Carolina and Virginia adopted legislation banning the commitment of misdemeanants, all three states experienced a decline in juvenile arrests for violent offenses. In North Carolina, juvenile violent arrests fell 20 percent, and in Virginia, they fell 36 percent.