Broward News

Florida Senate Committee Report: Cut Arbitrary Juvenile Detention Sentences, Save Millions

The Florida Senate Committee on Justice -- in response to a request from Florida TaxWatch -- found that reducing sentences for youngsters in juvenile lockup facilities could save the state millions of dollars.

In the most conservative move -- reducing the length of stay for all juveniles by a week -- the committee estimates it would save nearly $4.7 million.

The most extreme plan, which would lower some sentences as much as three months, would save the state more than $44.2 million.

It'd be easy to reduce the stays of the kids because the sentences in juvie lockups are based on arbitrary rules, with no specific lengths of stay.

As quoted in the report by the committee, the closest the Florida Administrative Code gets to defining a sentence for a juvenile is "the length of time a youth resides in a residential commitment program or the designed length of stay for a particular residential treatment program, reflecting the anticipated time it will take most youth placed in the program to successfully complete it."

The other rule is that the kid cannot serve more than the maximum sentence an adult would get for the same crime, essentially leaving the Department of Juvenile Justice to write the rules on keeping kids holed up.

There have been fewer juveniles committed to facilities in recent years -- most recent figures in the report show 6,587 were committed in fiscal 2007/2008, compared with more than 8,000 each year between 2000 and 2005/2006 -- but the lengths of commitment aren't getting that much lower.

The average juvie jailbird spends 256 committed in DJJ facilities, with "maximum risk" youngsters spending an average of 609 days in the juvie program -- the highest average of any year analyzed in the committee report.

Despite the increases in stays, they're not sure that locking up some kids is even helpful.

"The DJJ supports the Florida TaxWatch/SPLC recommendations to modify the length of stay, especially based upon current research indicating that longer stays in juvenile facilities do not appear to reduce offending, and for low-risk offenders, institutional placement increases recidivism," the committee report says.

While the report produced five estimates on how much it could save -- with the maximum being the aforementioned $44.2 million -- it suggests it's only "feasible" to reach the second estimate, saving a projected $7.3 million.

The report says at a minimum, it can reduce the length of stay for all offenders by a week, cutting 120 beds and saving almost $4.7 million.

The estimate saving $7.3 million would include reducing the average sentences for moderate-risk offenders from 247 days to 231and sentences for high-risk offenders from 342 days to 331 -- the same averages the DJJ had in 2002/2003.

Click here to read the committee's report on juvenile sentences.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley