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New Turn In Department of Juvenile Justice / Florida Counties Feud

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice

An ongoing feud between the Department of Juvenile Justice and several Florida counties has been raging for years, but a Judge’s ruling on the issue is giving the counties’ side hope for a resolution.

In 2004, the Department of Juvenile Justice split the cost of detaining juvenile offenders with Florida counties. It required the counties to pay for the period during the trial, while DJJ would cover everything afterward.

But situations with repeat offenders, who are awaiting a new trial while still occupying the post-trial period from their last offense, were never properly defined, and according to Bryan Desloge, a Leon County Commissioner, counties say the Department is taking advantage of them and using the vague rule as a cover.

“We feel pretty strongly that we’ve been overpaying for a number of years, and so there’s been a number of lawsuits to try and clarify that,” Desloge said.

Cragin Mosteller, communications director for the Florida Association of Counties, is relieved that the latest lawsuit succeeded.

“DJJ has once again shown, and the judge has once again ruled, that their haphazard approach to rulemaking is flawed and incorrect. And we have been dealing with this statute now for 11 years that DJJ has yet to interpret appropriately, according to the judicial system,” Mosteller said.

On Wednesday, Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins ruled the latest DJJ rule change, quote, “constitutes an invalid exercise of delegated authority.” The DJJ has spent years revising and tweaking its rules. Desloge said the inconsistency only adds to the problem.

“When the rules change all the time, or there’s kind of a moving target, it’s very difficult for us as counties to budget going forward, and try to figure out, ‘well, how much will we pay, or could we pay, or are responsible for paying?’” Desloge said.

Meanwhile, a pair of bills in the house and senate that were meant to address this conflict have been stalled in the legislature, gathering dust and cobwebs since early this month. The bills proposed DJJ and the counties split the bill 57/43. And while Mosteller says she’d like to see it go 50/50, she’s happy to see a concrete number.

“Well, I mean, first I’d tell you that we’re cautiously optimistic,” Mosteller said. “While neither bill is where we’d like to see it, the entire budget is stalled. So, at this point, because this has a budget appropriation attached to it, you know, we’re certainly going to wait and see how the process plays out.”

There’s barely a week left in Legislative session, and the current budget stalemate means this might still be a no-go. But the counties have been playing the game of whack-a-rule for 11 years. They hope next year will be the one.

Matthew Seeger began his work in radio in 2012, during an internship he took with WUSF in Tampa. He went on to volunteer at 89.7 FM “The Voice” for several years as a news anchor and production assistant. He began working with the WFSU news team in January of 2015. In addition to reporting the news, Matt is a voice actor, having recorded and produced several creative audio pieces, as well as his own series for V89’s Vox Populi program called “Tales from Hell Creek,”-- a series of slice-of-life vignettes about dinosaurs.