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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | FL

Florida: 2016  | 2013  | 2012  | 2011  | 2010 | 2009 


  • Confidentiality and Expungement —  Florida Decreases Time for Automatic Expunction of Juvenile Records: Senate Bill 386 requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to automatically expunge the criminal records of youth after the age of 21 if they are not classified as serious or habitual offenders and have not been committed to a youth prison. Prior law required the FDLE to retain these records until the individual reached 24 years of age. Under S.B. 386, youth that meet certain criteria and who are between 18 and 20 years old, can apply to have their juvenile record expunged before the automatic expunction. While past law stated that a minor only has 12 months after the successful completion of a prearrest or post arrest diversion program to file for the expunction of their record, this bill deletes that requirement and allows minors to file after 12 months. Senate Bill 386 was introduced by Senator Nancy Detert and the Fiscal Policy Committee and co-introduced by Senators Soto, Joyner, and Evers. S.B. 386 was signed into law on March 10, 2016.


  • School-to-Prison Pipeline —  Broward County School District Agrees to Curb the Role of Police in Schools: Florida’s second-largest school district signed a memorandum of understanding with juvenile justice stakeholders to limit law enforcement’s role in school discipline. The parties agreed to virtually eliminate arrests for school-based incidents involving misdemeanor offenses committed by students.  Prior to this agreement, Broward County led the state, with 1,062 arrests from its schools in 2011-12, 71 percent of which were for misdemeanor offenses. The agreement ensures that schools limit the involvement of law enforcement officers only to behavior that threatens the physical safety of students and staff. The agreement is embedded in the student code of conduct and a discipline matrix that guides school officials’ responses to student misbehavior. In addition, the agreement establishes a new program that provides a school-based alternative to arrest and suspension, mandates training, and requires the collection and assessment of discipline data. Memorandum of understanding signed November 5, 2013.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline —  Polk County School District Settlement Ensures Education for Children in County Jail: The Southern Poverty Law Center reached a settlement with the Polk County School District to ensure that children detained at the county jail have their math and reading skills evaluated upon arrival and receive an appropriate education while detained. The complaint arose after a change in Florida law, driven by Polk County, that allows counties to hold children awaiting adjudication of delinquency charges in county jail instead of a Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility. County jails are not subject to DJJ standards or oversight. With this settlement, the school district agreed that DJJ educational standards will apply to youth in county jails, regardless of whether they are tried as juveniles or adults. The agreement also states that teachers assigned to the jail must obtain certification to teach special education classes, positive behavioral interventions and supports must be implemented in the classrooms, and the district must retain a transition coordinator to assist students as they return to school and/or transition to adulthood. Settlement agreement signed August 8, 2013.
  • School-to-Prison Pipeline —  Palm Beach County School District Settlement Curbs Role of Police in Schools: After the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice investigated a civil rights complaint filed against the Palm Beach County School District in 2011, the district agreed to a settlement with the Department of Justice in 2013 intended to establish an inclusive and fair school discipline policy. Among other things, schools may no longer use law enforcement officers to respond to behavior that could otherwise be appropriately managed under school disciplinary procedures. Schools may only involve law enforcement when required by state law, when necessary to protect the physical safety of students and staff, or to address the criminal conduct of people other than students. The settlement also ensures due process for students before they are excluded from school, establishes discipline procedures that create a positive school climate, supports language accessibility, and mandates the collection and assessment of discipline data. Settlement agreement between the United States of America and the School District of Palm Beach County, signed February 26, 2013.

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  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons —  Florida Establishes Respite Beds for Youth Accused of Domestic Violence: The Florida Legislature expanded the definition of secure detention to include “respite” beds, temporary residential placements for youth accused of domestic violence. As respite beds are less costly than secure detention, this change reduced the overall cost of detention and allowed savings to be shifted in order to provide or contract for respite beds across the state, helping youth accused of domestic violence avoid the trauma of secure detention. H.B. 5401/Act No. 2012-137, signed into law April 20, 2012; effective July 1, 2012.
  • Conditions of Confinement —  :Florida Bans Use of Restraints on Incarcerated Pregnant Women Citing the risks to women and pregnancy and the fact that the vast majority of women who are incarcerated in Florida have committed non-violent offenses, state law now prohibits the use of restraints on a pregnant woman who is incarcerated during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. There is an exception for extraordinary circumstances, including substantial risk of flight or injury to medical staff, corrections personnel, or the woman herself. Additionally, the use of restraints is prohibited during the third trimester unless there are documented security risks that require the use of restraints. Any woman who is restrained in violation of the law may file a grievance. All correctional institutions must inform women of the rules upon entry, in the prisoner handbook, and by posting the policies and practices on the walls in visible areas. S.B. 524/Act No. 2012-41, signed into law April 6, 2012; effective July 1, 2012.
  • Facility Closures and Downsizing —  Florida Continues to Eliminate Prison Beds and Increase Community-Based Alternatives: The final FY 2012-13 Florida budget passed by the legislature and signed by the governor eliminated over 300 juvenile beds and reinvested over $6 million in community-based alternatives. The state continued its move toward privatization, however; the budget included proviso language assuring 100 percent privatization of Florida’s juvenile prison system (excluding detention) by the end of the fiscal year. H.B. 5001/Act No. 2012-118, signed into law April 17, 2012; effective July 1, 2012.
  • Sexual Exploitation of Youth —  Florida Grants Safe Harbor to Sexually Exploited Youth: A new law in Florida specifies that sexually exploited youth must be treated as dependent rather than delinquent and that the state must provide such youth with care and services—independent of citizenship—if they are not already receiving comparable services. Services may be accessed voluntarily, as a condition of probation, or through a diversion program. The law also increases fines for soliciting prostitutes from $500 to $5,000, using the fines to fund the creation of secure safe houses with special living quarters for sexually exploited youth; provides sexually exploited youth residing in safe houses with an advocate, responsible for accompanying the youth to all important meetings and court appearances; and authorizes the pursuit of training funds to inform law enforcement officials about child sexual exploitation. H.B. 99/Act No. 2012-105, signed into law April 13, 2012; effective January 1, 2013.

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  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons —  Legislature Expands Juvenile Civil Citation Program: Based on the success of Miami-Dade’s civil citation program for youth, the Florida Legislature required that other jurisdictions in the state create juvenile civil citation programs or similar diversion programs. The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) must “encourage and assist in the implementation and improvement of civil citation or similar diversion programs around the state.” Miami-Dade’s model civil citation program offers diversion services for hundreds of youth each year who have committed nonviolent misdemeanors. The program encourages police not to arrest such youth, but instead refer them for appropriate assessments, evidence-based services, and/or sanctions. H.B. 997/Ch. 124, signed into law July 2, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.
  • Facility Closures and Downsizing —  Legislature Restricts Incarceration of Youth with Low-Level Convictions: With some exceptions, Florida courts may no longer commit youth without felony convictions to residential facilities. Exceptions include youth with three or more prior misdemeanor adjudications and youth adjudicated of offenses highly correlated with risk to re-offend. In its reasoning for the law, the legislature cites the high cost of incarceration, the ineffectiveness of incarceration, and the benefits of keeping youth connected with their families and communities. Advocates project that 680 fewer misdemeanor commitments will be made in FY 12-13 due to the new law. S.B. 2114/Ch. 54, signed in to law May 26, 2011; effective July 2011.
  • Facility Closures and Downsizing —  State Reduces Number of Confined Youth: A combination of budget crises, new programs, and innovative practice reforms enabled Florida to close a number of public and private facilities over the past several years, including the notorious Dozier youth prison in 2011. Commitments to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) dropped from 8,897 in FY 2004-05 to 5,684 in 2010-11, a 36 percent reduction. DJJ has eliminated more than 2,500 beds over the past six years, reducing its overall capacity of 6,012 in FY 2006-07 to a capacity of 3,455 as of December 2011. This reduction in commitments and overall capacity saved the state more than $130 million. Simultaneously, Florida has reduced the number of detained youth through the use of detention reform strategies. Over the past five years, Florida has reduced its total bed days for pre-disposition secure confinement by 55 percent, from 538,953 to 241,590.
  • Probation, Parole, and Reentry —  Legislature Addresses Need for Transition to Adulthood Services: Finding that “older youth are faced with the need to learn how to support themselves within legal means and overcome the stigma of being delinquent,” the Florida Legislature passed a law making justice-involved youth in the custody of the Department of Children and Family Services eligible for transition-to-adulthood services. The law requires transition services to be part of an overall plan leading to independence and states that an adjudication of delinquency must not on its own disqualify foster youth from receiving services. S.B. 404/Ch. 236, signed into law June 28, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.

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  • Conditions of Confinement —  Department of Juvenile Justice to Ensure Effective Delivery of Health Services for Youth in Custody: The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) must adopt rules to ensure the effective provision of health services to youth in facilities or programs operated or contracted by DJJ. The rules must address ordinary medical care, mental health services, substance abuse treatment services, and services to youth with developmental disabilities. The change was spurred on by the death of a youth in detention from appendicitis, as well as the recommendations of the Florida Blueprint Commission. S.B. 1012/Ch. 123, signed into law May 27, 2010; effective July 1, 2010.
  • Youth Involved in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems —  Appeals Court Rules Foster Youth Cannot Be Jailed for Their Own Good: The Third District Court of Appeal in Florida ruled that juvenile court judges cannot jail foster youth simply for their best interest, ending a years-old practice used by authorities in an attempt to protect runaway youth. The decision is in line with the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act’s prohibition on locking up youth who commit status offenses, such as running away. The case involved a 12-year-old girl in foster care who repeatedly ran away from her foster homes and school. The state alleged that incarceration of the girl was necessary in order to secure medical and dental examinations, psycho-educational testing, and a psychiatric evaluation. The court stated that a youth may not be detained simply to permit “administrative access” to the youth, and that detention is only authorized under “strict statutory criteria.” J.J. v. Florida, No. 3 D10-226, March 31, 2010.

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  • School-to-Prison Pipeline —  Legislature Reins in Zero Tolerance Law: The Florida Legislature amended its zero tolerance law to allow for more discretion and discourage the overuse of police referrals. The legislation encourages schools to use alternatives to expulsion or referral to law enforcement by using programs such as restitution, civil citation, teen court, or neighborhood restorative justice to address disruptive behavior. The law also states that zero tolerance policies are not intended to “be rigorously applied to petty acts of misconduct and misdemeanors.” Zero tolerance policies must now specifically define criteria for referral to law enforcement, acts that pose a serious threat to school safety, and petty acts of misconduct. S.B. 1540/Ch. 53, signed into law May 27, 2009; effective July 1, 2009.

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Photo: KP Tripathi, under Creative Commons License.