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Tuesday, May 24, 2011
CHILDREN IN JAIL
The following is a letter from The Children's Campaign. It was forwarded to us (indirectly) by our Public Defender: Mr. Martinez.
May 23, 2011
The Honorable Rick Scott Governor, State of Florida Plaza Level 400 South Monroe Street Tallahassee, FL. 32399
Dear Governor Scott:
On behalf of the members and supporters of The Children’s Campaign, Florida’s most reliable and dependable child advocacy organization, I am registering our strong objection to SB 2112 regarding the detention of children in county jails and we urge you to veto it.
The history of The Children’s Campaign extends back to the time, longer than three decades ago, when children were detained regularly in county jails and lock-ups in Florida. The problems were numerous and often horrific and the State moved in a better child focused direction. We see no good outcomes extending from the policy change to be enacted by SB 2112. More to the point, we foresee many bad results, degrading the care and treatment of children along with the systemic complications emanating from this poorly thought out legislation.
The fact that the bill’s proponents are focused entirely on its purported cost savings and and not its impact on the care and treatment of children “in their best interest” should be a warning sign of serious enough gravity for you to act against it.
While cost is an important consideration, the treatment of children in a civilized society must extend beyond such narrowly focused factors.
For instance, the bill as written does not address consistency of treatment of children across the state. Are we to accept that children will be treated less well in one county than those in another? How is it in the best interest of children to be electronically monitored in a mod devoid of adult interaction as a cost saving option, thereby sacrificing opportunities for positive adult role-modeling at a time when the only adult interaction the child may be experiencing at home is one of abuse and neglect?
We do not agree that detention policy is only about holding a child securely until his or her appearance in front of the judge who decides whether to continue to detain or to release until the adjudicatory phase. Detention of children in Florida for example now extends an average of eleven days. It is an opportunity to infuse other helpful and supportive services as was proven in the Girls Advocacy Project.
Page Two – SB 2112 Veto Request Letter
The innovative GAP service assisted detained girls cope with their many difficulties and prepared them for a better life path. It also exposed histories of trauma and sexual abuse and mental health problems which would go undetected in the non-child focused county jail operations framed by SB 2112.
Further, we are horrified by the prospect that the county jail staff will not train by mandate in how to best treat and counsel children. Worse, the bill allows children to suffer the consequences of being shocked with powerful electronic devices and prodded with batons when non-coercive techniques would be best if employed by knowledgeable staff educated in child responsive strategies.
Recent legal decisions as far up as the United States Supreme Court have validated a child’s brain is not yet fully developed and sentencing of children must be different than that afforded to an adult. Yet, this bill if allowed to become law will subject children to an environment specifically architected and operated for adults and by adults with no background in child management.
Regarding legal issues, the Counties and the State of Florida should prepare themselves for the spate of lawsuits sure to come due to the mistreatment of children by untrained child care staff in county jails. Florida’s reputation will suffer along with its children who are subjected to these bad practices.
This bill was not vetted in public hearings. It was conceived and moved along during the frantic budget process and then agreed to by only two lawmakers in conference committee. The community has been denied the opportunity to speak directly to problems with its theory and implementation.
The framers of the legislation have not taken into account the havoc to be wrought when some counties “opt in” and others “opt out”. The implications for the operations of the Offices of the State Attorneys, Public Defenders and the Department of Juvenile Justice are profound. Children will be detained long distances away from legal counsel and their families, and, in some cases, even hundreds of miles as a result of the real-life operating scenarios to unfold if this bill is implemented. The extent of problems in disproportionate access, transportation, medical care and parental and family involvement have not yet fully come to light because the bill did not receive a proper airing during the legislative session.
With this bill the detention system for children in Florida will be neither state nor county. It will hover somewhere in between and children will experience the worst of both worlds.
We reiterate that the primary motivation for this bill by its sponsors and supporters is a move by the counties to reduce the amount of money they spend on children and, in this case, some of the most vulnerable among our youth population. Balancing county budgets to the detriment of vulnerable children is a bad practice in its own right and should be rejected.
As an alternative, we urge you to direct the Secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, whose appointment and confirmation we supported, to address the current cost of detention to the counties, the past over-billing issues, and to develop a plan for resolving those issues in a manner that will not compromise the care of children by a system which is not uniform and is not child focused. This path will allow sufficient time to address the detention issue fully and transparently in the more appropriate substantive policy committees during the next session of the legislature.
SB 2112 should not go forward. It will make the lives of children worse, not better.