In the wake of Miami Herald’s disturbing Fight Club expose, which sent shock waves throughout Florida, The Children’s Campaign has analyzed the news series and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s (DJJ) responses in depth (see links at end of this story).
The cases brought to light are egregious, but other harmful interactions occur between residential care staff (guards) and children. For example, taunting, which occurs until the victim acts out and gets punished, sometimes severely, for battery on a law enforcement officer. The guard’s instigation goes unnoticed and, therefore, unreported.
Expectations for solving these long-standing abuses range from “get it done soon” to “it should have happened yesterday.” While urgency is needed, The Children’s Campaign believes we also shouldn’t settle for easy answers. Fixing problems in Florida’s juvenile justice system is more complex than increasing guard pay by 10% or establishing an Office of Youth and Family Advocacy in DJJ (which we applaud).
Examining the bigger picture, shouldn’t the goal of these reform conversations be to discover how we could better rehabilitate youth, rather than how we can better confine them?
An unfortunate side effect of not asking enough questions, or the best questions, is poor policy-making based on opinion presented as research. One such example is a recent report on civil citation that The Children’s Campaign reviewed while this larger discussion of juvenile justice was taking place.
Here’s some of the top questions we’ve been asked, ones we have asked ourselves, and our thinking so far:
- Should the public and policymakers have faith in DJJ leadership?
- Has DJJ made strides forward with reform?
- Was the Miami Herald Fight Club series comprehensive in revealing the failings and fixes within the juvenile justice system?
- Are the problems of secure confinement sporadic or systemic? Asked another way, is it a people problem or an institutional problem?
- Is it easier to fire abusive guards who work in a private for-profit company or those who work for the state?
- Are there kids in secure confinement that shouldn’t be there?
- DJJ’s budget has been reduced in recent years by $70 million. Is that a sign of success?
- Isn’t law enforcement pressing for locking up more children?
- Does Florida deserve an “F” grade for implementing civil citation?
- Is the Department of Juvenile Justice truly trauma-informed?
- Since private for-profit companies operate DJJ residential facilities, would private non-profits be better?
- Is there an alternative model worth considering?
As always, we welcome your feedback on this article. We’ve received many calls, emails and texts over the past few weeks regarding this issue, and we’re grateful for your support and advocacy.
- Miami Herald’s Fight Club series
- DJJ’s publicized response
- National Juvenile Justice Network Policy Platform: Confining Youth for Profit
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This Top Story is brought to you by Roy Miller, Karen Bonsignori and Tiffany McGlinchey