- Florida — Legislature Reins in Zero Tolerance Law: The Florida legislature amended its zero tolerance law to allow for more discretion and to 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.
- Florida — Florida Supreme Court Limits Shackling of Juvenile Offenders: The Supreme Court of Florida ruled that effective January 1, 2010, the restraint of juvenile offenders is forbidden unless a judge finds that the youth is likely to be violent. The decision describes the indiscriminate shackling of juveniles as “repugnant, degrading, humiliating, and contrary to the stated primary purposes of the juvenile justice system and to the principles of therapeutic justice.” In re Amendments to the Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure, 26 So. 3d 552 (Fla. 2009)/Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure, Rule 8.100.
- Florida — 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.
- Florida — Florida 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 status offenders, such as runaway youth. 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. 3D10-226, March 31, 2010.
- Florida — Florida Reduces Number of Confined Youth: A combination of budget crises, new programs, and innovative practice reforms has 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 2,300 beds over the past six years, reducing its overall capacity of 6,012 in FY 2006-07, to a capacity of 3,639 as of June 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 from 538,953 to 241,590.Florida – Florida Restricts Incarceration of Youth with Low-Level Convictions Florida courts may no longer commit youth who are convicted of misdemeanors or probation violations to highly restrictive facilities. With some exceptions, the most restrictive facilities permitted for such youth are minimum-risk, non-residential facilities. Exceptions include probation violations that are themselves felonies, having previous felony adjudications, or having three or more prior misdemeanor adjudications. 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. Since the law’s passage, 700 fewer youth have been placed in residential care for misdemeanors and violations of probation. S.B. 2114/Ch. 54, signed in to law May 26, 2011; effective July 2011.
- Florida — 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.
- Florida — Juvenile Civil Citation Program Expanded: Based on the success of Miami-Dade’s civil citation program for youth, the Florida legislature required that other jurisdictions 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 non-violent 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.