Fight Over Juvenile Detention Costs Expected To Continue In Upcoming Hearing

May 28, 2014

Hillsborough Juvenile Detention Center West
Credit DJJ

An ongoing fight between Florida’s counties and the state Department of Juvenile Justice is expected to continue during a hearing next week, considering a new formula with which both sides will divvy up the cost of Florida’s juvenile detention centers.

Today, 38 counties are supposed to be responsible for paying about 32 percent of juvenile detention costs. That’s according to Florida Association of Counties Spokeswoman Craigin Mosteller.

“And, so, unfortunately, what happens is even though DJJ has stipulated that counties are responsible for 32 percent, they have since changed that stipulation and that interpretation. They now say the counties aren’t responsible for 32 percent, we’re responsible for 57 percent,” said Mosteller.

This past session, the state Legislature was tasked with coming up with an agreement that both sides could agree on. While both chambers agreed to split the costs between the state Department of Juvenile Justice and counties 50-50, only the House proposal included a $140 million reimbursement for the counties, which claim they’ve been overbilled. It’s even been the topic of several legal battles over the years.

“And, as a result of that, two different rulings have agreed with counties, saying ‘yes you have been indeed overcharged. DJJ is misinterpreting that statute,’” added Mosteller. “And, so, ultimately, where that leaves us today is that DJJ now has to make new rules because the court has said their last rules because the court has said their last rules were not acceptable essentially, and they’re in the process of making new rules, which they have released and will have a hearing on June 6th.”

Meanwhile, DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters says she hopes to come to some sort of agreement since it’s been a source of frustration for all involved.

“Well, unfortunately, we were all very hopeful a much more equitable situation could develop. And, this is a very confusing issue, and I think the thing that’s been the most frustrating for this agency is the counties seem to believe we can just change what we’re doing,” said Walters.

Walters says the issue is really a legislative decision, not something her agency can do on its own. Walters adds the counties also have a lot of alternatives at their disposal, including opting out of paying the costs as some counties have already done.

“So, the counties do have a lot of recourse, and also, we have reduced the detention cost over the past few years by well over 20 percent. And, so, they have seen reductions in the payments that they have been paying over the past few years,” added Walters.

The hearing scheduled to consider the rules regarding the new pay formula will take place at 10 a.m. next Friday at DJJ’s Headquarters.

Stay tuned to Friday’s Capital Report as WFSU continues to talk with outgoing DJJ Secretary Walters about several topics. 

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.