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Scott Gets Backing for Juvenile Justice Changes

By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida
By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Dec. 22, 2010 --

Gov.-elect Rick Scott drew some support Wednesday for what is shaping up as a plan to reduce spending in the state’s Juvenile Justice Department by keeping kids out of costly residential lockups.

Florida TaxWatch joined with the Southern Poverty Law Center to release a report recommending the state rely more on community-based programs and soften sentences imposed on youthful offenders.

The organizations pointed out that $240 million in taxpayer spending now goes to residential facilities out of the agency’s $400 million budget. Youth also are serving 30 percent longer sentences than they did a decade ago, costing the state $20 million annually, TaxWatch and SPLC found.

The report parallels many of the recommendations of Scott’s law and order transition team, which Tuesday night released a scathing evaluation of Florida’s juvenile justice system. The panel also criticized lawmakers for cutting $10 million from the state’s Healthy Families program, which it said helps blunt some of the abuse problems that cause delinquency.

“We are very eager to work with Gov.-elect Rick Scott and the new administration as they take a fresh look at juvenile justice,” said Vanessa Carroll, co-director of the SPLC’s Florida Youth Initiative.

TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro said the state’s $3.5 billion budget shortfall should prompt a reevaluation of lengths of stay imposed on young criminals. Closing expensive lockups and putting these cost-savings into community programs would save money, better rehabilitate youth, and provide support to families.

Calabro also hinted that state business leaders will urge such direction when lawmakers begin putting together next spring’s budget. He disputed suggestions that it had done little to lobby against cutting current family programs.

“We’ll try to call them on it,” Calabro said of lawmakers. “And we’ll share the information we found with other groups that also influence them.”


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