Florida’s juvenile justice system is far from the mainstream, and far from doing the best it can to protect public safety. The state relies heavily on expensive residential facilities that pull thousands of children out of their homes and communities for nonviolent offenses. In addition, Florida transfers thousands of children into the adult system every year, where they have little hope of rehabilitation and education for the future.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to reforming the state’s broken juvenile justice system though litigation, promotion of sound policy, and grassroots campaigns. Based in Miami, our Florida initiative seeks to reform facilities that criminalize children and, where possible, replace them with proven alternatives that can get a young life back on track without separating the child from family and community.
The SPLC also targets harsh school discipline policies that criminalize ordinary student misbehavior and funnel these students into the juvenile justice system. We work to ensure that students receive educational services in school that are required by law – services that can make the difference between incarceration and graduation. Our community advocates work with parents and local groups throughout Florida to help parents understand their legal rights when it comes to their child’s education.
Our work is already meeting with success. In one of the largest settlements involving federal education law for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, school officials in Palm Beach County agreed to boost the counseling and psychological services for children with disabilities following a complaint filed by the SPLC and its partners. The school system also agreed to provide district-wide positive behavior supports – an evidence-based approach to improving school climate – for all students.
But there is still much work to be done. The Southern Poverty Law Center is committed to reforming the state’s destructive policies and providing Florida’s children with an opportunity for a brighter future.