SPLC Releases Roadmap to a More Efficient, Effective Juvenile Justice System in Florida

Florida can save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and enhance public safety by shifting resources from expensive residential facilities to more effective and efficient community-based programs and sanctions. According to the white paper released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Florida TaxWatch, Fiscal Responsibility: The Key to a Safer, Smarter, and Stronger Juvenile Justice System, Florida incarcerates thousands of low-risk children each year who would be better served in less expensive, results-based Redirection programs.

“Florida not only incarcerates far too many low-risk children,” said Vanessa Carroll, Co-Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida Youth Initiative, “but they stay too long in residential facilities, making it harder for them to readjust when they are released.”  

Florida currently spends $240 million annually on juvenile justice residential facilities that do not make Florida safer, but more vulnerable because they make low-risk children more likely to re-offend and they incur higher long-term costs to the state.

Redirection, a community-based program active in many of the state’s counties, produces better outcomes than incarceration at significantly less cost – saving the state more than $50 million in the past five years. Redirection of low-risk children would close expensive prison beds and reinvest a share of these significant cost-savings into community-based programs that have been proven to reduce recidivism rates and the likelihood that a child commits a violent crime in the future.

“It’s just common sense,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. “Florida TaxWatch has been working on this issue with other community organizations to help bring Florida’s juvenile justice system more in line with other states and move toward the expansion of evidence-based, community-based alternatives to incarceration. Redirection programs will not only save the taxpayers millions but will enhance Florida’s public safety, improve outcomes for children and families, and strengthen and protect the workforce of tomorrow,” said Calabro.

Many of the children in residential institutions pose little risk to public safety: 71% were committed to the DJJ for non-violent offenses, more than 2,500 were committed for a misdemeanor or probation violation, and more than 1,100 children incarcerated in FY2008-09 had never committed a felony. Only one third of girls were admitted for felony offenses.

Increases in lengths of stay in residential facilities not only cost the state nearly $20 million every year but also harm public safety. According to the Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice, children who stay in programs too long often begin to deteriorate and may be more likely to re-offend once they are released.

The white paper makes several other important findings:

  • By modifying lengths of stay with best practices, Florida would be able to close 1,100 residential beds and create a cost-savings of nearly $50 million annually.
  • Currently, Florida is on track to spend $70 million to incarcerate children for misdemeanors and probation violations in FY2010-11.
  • In FY2008-09, the cost of incarcerating 1,100 children who had never committed a felony reached nearly $40 million.
  • Children in residential facilities stay 30% longer than they did ten years ago, which costs the state $20 million annually.