Against Florida HB 273

On Monday Sandra Adams, a Republican State Representative in Florida, gave the first reading of a proposed measure she’s sponsoring, House Bill 273, which

Permits court to retain jurisdiction over child or child’s parent or legal guardian until certain costs & fees are satisfied; provides for preadjudicatory release conditions; provides additional use of certain types of detention; provides that specified placement does not require risk assessment; provides additional grounds for secure detention care; provides for continuing certain forms of care prior to hearing in certain circumstances; revises time limits for certain care under special detention order; permits holding child in secure detention care for additional time; provides that certain time limits do not apply; specifies circumstances permitting transfer of child to secure detention care & allowing holding child awaiting placement in secure detention care; limits such detention care; provides for secure detention care for certain absconders; permits parent or guardian to be held in contempt if he or she fails to bring child to trial or prevents child’s trial appearance; revises provisions relating to recommendations by probation officers to court concerning placement & treatment; specifies that court has power to determine appropriate dispositions; requires that reasons for disposition be in record; permits each county to create juvenile crime prevention fund through assessment of additional court cost.

The Palm Beach Post decoded this sanitized language in an editorial yesterday that took a strong stance against the bill. “The legislation would allow the courts to detain children – instead of releasing them, as is most common now – until their court hearings,” the paper stated. “The bill also would allow children awaiting placement in a low- or moderate-risk residential program to be held in secure detention for longer periods of time, which would slow disposition of cases and increase costs to the local governments paying for detention centers.”

More:

The bill also would keep children under the court’s jurisdiction beyond age 18 if there are outstanding court fees. It would require a mandatory fine of up to $50 for a “juvenile crime prevention fund.” With most of the children entering the DJJ system in Palm Beach County found to be indigent, the fine likely would go unpaid – as nearly half do now – while requiring probation officers to court officials to keep those files open.

As important, the legislation would diminish DJJ’s role – making it advisory – in determining how restrictive a program a child should enter. Judges would decide instead, without having to state why their conclusion is in the child’s best interest.

What’s so surprising about this bill is that it follows just weeks after a landmark report from the Blueprint Commission of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, released February 5, recommending precisely the opposite approach. The report, “Getting Smart About Juvenile Justice in Florida,” followed a series of statewide hearings and reflected the recommendations of the twenty-five-member commission that was tasked last summer with charting a new course for the state’s troubled system. It’s time for the state to get “smart,” not “tough,” on juvenile offenders, the commission concluded.

I wrote a long post when the report was published (click here to read it), laying out and applauding the commission’s recommendations. “Last year Florida legislators asked for a how-to guide to fixing the state’s broken juvenile justice system,” I wrote. “They have now received a very good one. Whether the experts will be given the tools they’ll need to get to work remains an open question.”

Unfortunately, Adams’s bill offers a possible answer to that question, and it’s the wrong one. As the Palm Beach Post editorial concludes, “Legislation enacting the commission’s recommendations has yet to be filed. Meanwhile, HB 273 is moving through House committees, set to expand the state’s wrongheaded ‘get tough’ approach to troubled juveniles. There’s still time for the Legislature, as the blueprint commission urged, to instead “get smart.”

There’s still time, yes. But as HB 273 heads toward enactment, time may be running out.

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