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Response to Larry Fuchs and Dan R. Stengle: Funding must match DJJ's new Roadmap

Letter to the Editor of the Tallahassee Democrat by DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters

In a letter to the editor that was published in the Tallahassee Democrat on April 12, 2013, Larry Fuchs and Dan Stengle cite a flawed report from Voices for Florida that the organization released more than a month ago.

When we at the Department read the Voices for Florida report, we were shocked by what appears to be an attempt to simultaneously endorse DJJ’s Roadmap to System Excellence (Roadmap) while also criticizing various stakeholders with misleading bits of partial information. We are further disappointed by this effort to belabor the aforementioned report that most media, the public and our state’s many well-respected juvenile justice stakeholders have recognized as lacking a factual base.    

We appreciate Voices for Florida for providing feedback on the Roadmap and want to note that as we have traveled the state during the last six months, we have received input from more than 2,000 local statutory stakeholders, advocacy groups, concerned citizens, and newspaper editorial board members. We are currently updating the Roadmap to reflect the feedback we have received and we are looking forward to sharing the newest version after our final Roadmap meetings, which are scheduled for the end of May in Lee County.

The Voices’ report demonstrated there are areas in which the organization doesn’t understand the state’s juvenile justice system and the immense work that has been done to implement meaningful reform.

Since fiscal year (FY) 2006-2007, DJJ has reduced the number of residential beds from 6,072 to 2,713, savings more than $147 million. Detention beds decreased similarly, from 2,059 in FY 2006-2007 to 1,332 in FY 2012-13, saving nearly $30 million. Overall, this amounts to a reduction of 4,086 beds in residential and detention, and a budget savings of $177.3 over six years. We are extremely proud of this because the reductions were in response to underutilization, meaning more kids are staying in school and out of trouble. By right-sizing these beds to meet Florida’s actual needs, we are operating more efficiently, fulfilling our responsibility as stewards of taxpayer dollars and increasing the number of youth and families we are able to reach before they make contact with the juvenile justice system.

Voices also points out that DJJ’s Legislative Budget Request contains few or no dollars for civil citation. We are grateful Voices appreciates the importance of civil citation, which gives first-time misdemeanor offenders the opportunity to participate in intervention services at the earliest stage of delinquency. Diverting first-time misdemeanants through civil citation will save millions of dollars that would be spent if youth were arrested and required to go through formal delinquency processing.  DJJ didn’t request funding for civil citation because it doesn’t require funding – it is a paper process that saves both time and money without a cost to taxpayers

Regarding gender-specific policies, we have been working with leadership at the PACE Center for Girls and the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center to ensure the Roadmap appropriately addresses the specific needs of at-risk female youth and includes programs that give young females the greatest chance at a successful future. Gov. Rick Scott’s Florida Families First 2013-2014 Budget provides funding to expand PACE Center for Girls, which currently operates in 17 Florida counties, to Miami. There are an estimated 200 girls in the Miami-Dade area who would qualify for PACE services, so we are thrilled they will now have this opportunity.

We encourage anyone else who has questions or comments to contact DJJ by email at Roadmap@djj.state.fl.us, by phone at (850) 717-2716 or by mail: Knight Building, 2737 Centerview Drive, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-3100.