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What's Ahead Legislatively For Florida's Prison, Juvenile Justice Systems?

Florida Channel
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones (left) and Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly (right) speaking during a Senate committee hearing last month.

What’s ahead legislatively for Florida prison and juvenile justice systems?

Florida Department of Corrections

Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones says at the Governor’s request, she put together a number of goals that will drive her budget for the next two years. It includes inmate and officer safety, and reducing recidivism.

About 40 million will go toward facility repair and renovations as well as address aging agency transport vehicles. A similar amount is aimed at staffing prisons: pay raises for correctional and probation officers.

“This is not an across the board pay raise. And, it was difficult for me to justify, given the current budget situation. So, we made a very targeted, data-driven request, and it’s solely focused on recruiting new employees and retaining existing employees.”

Jones says there are some employees who will be left out, like administrators and accountants. But, for now, she’s focused on raising the minimum salaries of corrections and probation officers.

“If you’re a correctional officer that makes more than the new base, you don’t get a raise this year—unless you qualify for the Governor’s performance bonus plan. But, this encourages existing employees to promote part 2 of the recruitment and retention plan is $1,000 hiring bonus at facilities that are over 10 percent vacant. And, there’s a requirement that if you leave before a two year commitment is up, that you pay it back.”

Anyone working in prison mental health units will receive a 10-percent increase. Jones is also proposing the creation of an 11th mental health facilityto help these inmates successfully re-enter society.

“One of our biggest liability right now in the prison system is mental health and the increase in our severely mentally ill inmates.”

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice

Meanwhile, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christy Daly says while her agency has made a lot of strides, there’s still some work to do.

“In order to meet the need of our youth placed in residential commitment, address youth behaviors timely, and provide better outcome, the Governor’s recommended budget includes $5.2 million in funding for additional residential capacity of 60 treatment beds and $5.3 million to provide evidence-based residential services.”

It also includes money for facility repair, funds to enhance an assessment tool, early intervention programs, and expanding workforce education programs to 500 youth. Daly says those have been a great success so far.

“For fiscal year, 2015-2016, 60 percent of eligible DJJ youth who participated in workforce programs obtained a job, entered the military, or returned to school.”

There’s also a special focus to decriminalize adolescence—a goal of Senate President Joe Negron. So, his second-in-command—Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami)—filed a bill to expand the use of juvenile civil citations. It requires an officer to issue the citation if it’s the juvenile’s first time committing a specific lower-level crime.

“There are 3 seven-year-olds somewhere in the state of Florida that committed one of these misdemeanors and were put into the criminal justice system, at seven-years-old. That is wrong! And, we have an opportunity to get it right.”

Flores’ bill has so far passed its first committee. Meanwhile, a House bill has not yet been filed.

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.