Ocala, FL -- A coalition of organizations urged sheriffs not to detain juveniles under standards that treat them like adults at today’s Florida Sheriffs’ Association (FSA) Jail Standards Committee meeting. Attendees proposed changes to the minimum standards of county jails that seek to detain children. While the preference is not to house children in county-run adult jails, at minimum Florida counties should adopt the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) standards for protecting children.
Last spring Florida lawmakers passed SB 2112 allowing county commissions to place children charged as juveniles in adult jails. While other counties have taken over control of juvenile detention since passage of SB 2112, only the Polk County Sheriff's Department has done so under the Florida Model Jail Standards rather than the standards of the DJJ, which are designed to meet the unique needs of children. Members of the coalition have called on county leaders to show leadership in rejecting the law, citing Polk County jail as an example of a larger problem.
“The goal of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate our children and steer them away from a life of crime. Keeping them out of adult jails and from experiencing the unnecessary dangers these facilities pose to their physical and emotional well-being is a critical step in that process,” said David Utter, Policy and Legislative Director of the SPLC Florida Youth Initiative. “We stand with these parents and community members, who only want their children to have every opportunity at being productive citizens.”
Joining David Utter at the FSA meeting were Loretta Jenkins, President of Marion County NAACP; Reverend Edward L. Bland, Pastor at Greater Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church; and representatives from Disability Rights Florida and Florida Institutional Legal Services. Other members of the coalition include Roy Miller, President of The Children’s Campaign; Florida Legal Services; and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
In addition to offering revisions to the current jail standards, coalition members also submitted statements from family members of juveniles detained in adult facilities. Gloria Cuyler’s grandson suffers from a speech disability and is currently being held in the Polk County jail, despite being a juvenile. “Why can’t Sheriff Judd understand that my grandson is a child? Adult jails are not the answers for our young people."
Roy Miller serves as President of The Children’s Campaign, a watchdog and advocacy group for Florida children. "The implementation of SB 2112 reverses over 40 years of what is best for children and long term public safety," said Miller. "The concerns of these parents who have stepped forward - as quickly as they have after their children were detained - underscores that our fears and predictions about this unfortunate change are coming to pass."
National research shows that children held in adult jails are twice as likely to suffer assault, abuse, and even death as children held in juvenile facilities. More than forty years ago, Florida established the DJJ to create protections for children that adult jails cannot provide. This came on the heels of frequent incidents of children being raped, assaulted and abused while held in adult jails.
“It is the responsibility of each citizen to do all that we can to invest in the future of young people and above all not to give up on them, even those who find themselves in legal trouble,” said Rev. Edward Bland. “Marion County Sheriff Ed Dean has worked with this community in a very effective way and he proved his concern about the welfare of youth by adopting the DJJ standards as their baseline for detaining kids.”
The Florida Sheriffs’ Association has already rejected attempts to maintain juvenile standards – allowing local sheriff departments to refuse to recognize the difference between adults and children. Deputies, who receive no training in dealing with youth, are allowed to use mace and tasers and even place children in isolation for days at a time.
“Jail is no place for children. The rush to take over juvenile detention from the state was ill conceived and has been implemented poorly, with truly harmful consequences to our children,” said David Utter. “We disagree that any child should be held in a sheriff’s jail, but if a county does decide to take over juvenile detention, they should do so under DJJ standards and oversight.