Child Advocates Blast Meeting Delay On Youth Detention Standards
Child advocates on Tuesday blasted the last-minute postponement of a meeting that had been scheduled to take up proposed revisions to the standards by which underage offenders are detained in Florida’s county jails.
The scheduled meeting of the Florida Model Jail Standards Committee, a subcommittee of the Florida Sheriffs Association, was canceled at the urging of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, whose top lawyer linked the proposed revisions to a Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit claiming that Judd’s agency “abuse[s] children in his care.”
“Many of the proposed changes that SPLC is requesting are at the heart of our contested litigation,” wrote Anne Gibson, director of legal affairs for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, to the standards subcommittee on May 30. “As such, we respectfully request that the Subcommittee continue consideration of the proposed amendment until after the federal court has had an opportunity to at least rule on the injunction component of the lawsuit, which should occur in July.”
Judd’s legal office argued that the agency would “be in the impossible position of either prematurely revealing our litigation strategy through our expert witnesses prior to the federal court hearing or not providing the Subcommittee the necessary expert testimony it needs.”
The standards review panel responded by moving the two-day meeting to August 1-2, drawing a sharp rebuke from the SPLC.
“The plaintiff-minors and their guardians…allege a systemic pattern and practice of Polk County’s unconstitutional use of pepper spray and unconstitutional failure to protect children from harm due to inadequate staffing, training and supervision,” wrote SPLC’s policy director, David Utter, to Marion County Sheriff Ed Dean, chair of the model standards subcommittee.
The Florida Sheriff’s Association declined to intervene.
“That’s not the FSA’s place,” said spokeswoman Nanette Schimpf. “That’s up to the Florida Model Jail Standards Committee…Even if we had been asked to weigh in, we would not have. It’s not under our jurisdiction.”
Schimpf said each sheriff’s office in Florida has the right to decide what method of restraint to use.
The debate over model standards is based on a measure (SB 2112) passed by the 2011 Legislature allowing counties to place youth charged as juveniles in adult jails governed by the Florida Model Jail Standards – rather than by the state Department of Juvenile Justice standards, which were designed to address the unique needs of children and youth, such as schooling.
Child advocates throughout Florida have asked the Florida Sheriffs Association to adopt revised standards to better protect juvenile offenders and ensure better outcomes. These include:
-Prohibiting restraints with handcuffs and shackles when children and youth are confined within the jail’s secure area, including when going to and from school within a jail.
-Prohibiting the use of force except under the policies and practices established for children by DJJ.
-Prohibiting the use of chemical restraints such as pepper spray and mace by staff except in rare circumstances and under no circumstances allowing electronic restraints (tasers) to be used on children.
In February, the standards review subcommittee invited the public to present testimony on these and other issues on Tuesday. Now the SPLC is urging the subcommittee to reschedule the meeting as soon as possible.
“With children in some counties already being held in adult jails and other counties considering moving to this model, it is of the utmost importance that this group meet and act as soon as possible,” Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Florida office, said in a statement.
“The lawsuit against Sheriff Grady Judd is based on systemic violations of the United States Constitution – not the model jail standards,” Galloni said. “It’s ridiculous that any sheriff facing allegations of wrong-doing would try to delay a statewide effort to improve the treatment of children in county jails.”
The News Service of Florida
6 June 2012