We’re dedicated to reforming Florida’s broken juvenile justice system, a system far from the mainstream and far from doing the best it can to protect public safety. Harsh school discipline policies have needlessly pushed young people out of an educational environment and into the juvenile justice system for misbehavior that once warranted only a trip to the principal’s office.
Students of color are especially at risk of being swept into the system. Even worse, the Sunshine State’s juvenile justice system transfers more than a thousand children into the adult system every year –without a hearing before a judge.
The results have been catastrophic.
Children across the state have been needlessly criminalized, and subjected to physical and emotional abuse behind bars. They’ve been denied an education and other opportunities for rehabilitation. Quite simply, they’ve been locked up and forgotten.
This doesn’t make Florida safer. It only derails young lives.
We’re dedicated to ensuring that all children have equal access to the opportunities to reach their full potential through litigation, promotion of sound policy and community engagement. Based in Miami, we seek to reduce the incarceration of children and to replace harmful facilities with proven alternatives that can get young lives back on track without separating children from their families and communities.
We target harsh school discipline policies that punish ordinary student misbehavior by suspending children’s right to an education and pushing them into the justice system. We work to transform juvenile justice policy that funnels far too many young lives into the adult criminal justice system.
We’re also dedicated to ensuring 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 the state to help parents understand their legal rights when it comes to their child’s education.
We’re making progress toward needed reforms.
In Florida’s Flagler County, for example, the school board adopted a wide-ranging plan to eliminate racial disparities in school discipline and will work toward reducing in-school arrests for minor offenses – resolving a federal civil rights complaint filed by the SPLC.
In one of the largest settlements involving federal education law for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, Palm Beach County school officials agreed to boost the counseling and psychological services for children with disabilities following a lawsuit we filed with our partners.
In Miami, a federal court ruled in favor of our clients in finding that policies requiring U.S. citizen students in Florida to pay “international” or “out-of-state” college tuition rates simply because their parents were undocumented immigrants violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection (see the details of this landmark case Wendy Ruiz, et al. v. Gerard Robinson, et al.).
Our policy advocacy in Tallahassee has helped lead to reform of “zero tolerance” laws; increased access to civil citation in lieu of arrest for minor offenses; reduction of harsh sentencing laws applied to children tried as adults; and administrative rules that promote the rights of children in the educational and juvenile justice systems.
But there is still much work to be done. We remain committed to reforming policies and practices that are counterproductive to society and destructive of young lives. Working with Florida’s families, policymakers and others, we can help ensure a brighter future for the state’s children.