Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice hopes to reform troubled system
It almost sounds like a pipe dream: fix the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice so it can offer troubled youth a real shot at rehabilitation. But, that's exactly the task for the Blueprint Commission on Juvenile Justice, a 25-member panel commissioned to develop a plan to reform juvenile justice programs in the state. The panel is currently barnstorming the state to obtain feedback from the public and recommendations from the experts. Its final report is expected early next year.
Over the past decade, the department has been adrift, becoming a junior grade version of the state's more punitive Department of Corrections. An expansion of bed space and a heavier focus on incarceration became the norm as programs designed to keep juveniles out of the system or help rehabilitate first-time offenders fell by the wayside.
In the process, DJJ has been hampered by low staff salaries, high turnover and a growing population of girls that it is ill-equipped to handle. The department hit rock-bottom last year with the tragic beating death of a 14-year-old at the hands of detention officers at a department boot camp.
Timing is a problem, too. State government officials embroiled in a painful budget cutting process need to shed $1.1 billion in state spending from this year's budget. It's a tough time to seek additional money to improve services, even one as crucial as juvenile justice.
Still, the problems go beyond DJJ, and fortunately, so do the solutions. To the commission's credit, the panel is looking at community-based organizations, law enforcement, the courts, social service programs and local governments in hopes of resolving the problems plaguing troubled youngsters.
As Frank Brogan, a former lieutenant governor, current president of Florida Atlantic University and the panel's chair put it: "If you can save the kids, then save them."
7 October 2007