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Bill Allowing Officials To Visit Juvenile Justice Facilities Starts Moving In Fla. Senate

MGN Online

Florida lawmakers are already moving forward a bill to reform the state’s juvenile justice system. The measure aims to address abuses within the system outlined in a Miami Herald investigative series.

Looking at 10 years worth of records, the Miami Herald investigated facilities within the Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice. Last year, it uncovered numerous abuses, including sexual and physical abuse by staff.

“I think there needs to be oversight of the entire program,” said Senate President Joe Negron, speaking on  Florida Face to Face on The Florida Channel.

A longtime supporter of juvenile justice reforms, Negron says he sees the good the current system is doing. Still, he says he’s on board with a bipartisan effort by lawmakers to repair the broken parts of the system.

“The good news is that juvenile arrest rates are down 40 percent in Florida,” said . We’ve made a lot of progress. More young people are being treated in programs where they stay with their families, rather than being shipped away to a detention facility. So, I think we need more oversight in all of that area, and Senator Bracy as the policy chair is involved in that, and Senator Brandes as the appropriations component of that. So, I’m very pleased with the developments we’re making.”

A bill by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) has already passed its first Senate Committee. It allows certain people—primarily state officials—to visit juvenile justice facilities during specified hours.

“This bill authorizes certain individuals—including but not limited to members of the legislature, the Governor, public defender—to visit all state facilities housing juveniles that are operated or overseen by the DJJ between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and in the interim between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. as the rules defined by the department,” said Brandes. “The bill specifies that a person may visit a facility before 6 a.m. or after 11 p.m., pursuant to rules prescribed by the department, and the department may not unreasonably withhold access to reporters and writers in the media space.”

Some lawmakers on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee wondered if

“Is it not the way now,” asked Sen. Aaron Bean (R-Fernandina Beach).  “I’ve visited before, and we just go. But, it’s not the case? And, you’re just trying to prevent in the future somebody not putting out the red carpet?”

“We don’t believe there’s specific statutory authority, and so, this grants us specific statutory authority and we define the hours. In the Department of Corrections, you and I can go anytime, day or night. We thought it would be prudent to limit that a little bit—because it’s juveniles—to 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., and then have specific rules that the department has between an 11 p.m. and a 6 a.m. visit.”

Brandes’ measure also applies to the few counties that operate juvenile facilities.

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.