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Monday, Nov 19, 2018
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Christina K. Daly: Transforming Florida’s juvenile justice system

Protecting Florida’s youths and the communities we serve is the top priority of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, and over the last five years we have worked to innovate Florida’s youth system of reform through a transparent and accountable process. The results experienced over the past few years have led to thousands of Florida children leading more productive, healthy lives — something we are very proud of.

Just five years ago, close to 75,000 youth in Florida were arrested. Today, that number has declined by almost 30,000, due in large part to Florida’s aggressive shift toward effective and evidence-based programming.

Like most states, Florida used to rely heavily on services that emphasized deterrence and discipline. Unfortunately, decades of research by the country’s leading criminologists tells us that these types of programs are largely ineffective and do a poor job of reducing delinquency. Research suggests that these types of interventions can actually increase the likelihood that youths will re-offend.

Utilizing the latest research and data to guide decision making, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice implemented best practices and evidence-based services to transform Florida’s juvenile justice system. Treatment plans are tailored utilizing validated assessment tools to ensure kids are receiving appropriate types and levels of services.

Juvenile arrests are now at their lowest levels in 30 years, and the number of children being arrested has declined 40 percent. The number of those considered serious, violent and chronic offenders has also been on the decline each of the past seven years.

The juvenile justice system we see now recognizes that children are different than adults. They are adaptable, and their behavior can be changed through appropriate interventions that are strategically matched to their needs.

Florida is successfully moving to a youth-centered system working to hold them accountable, while also focusing on their identified behavioral needs to ensure the best outcomes, which results in stronger families and safer communities.

Now, more children are getting the opportunity to receive interventions that work and translate to lower recidivism rates. For example, civil citations hold youths accountable while achieving a 5 percent recidivism rate. Focusing on prevention and reaching kids early means better outcomes for our kids and reserves the costly, intensive residential services for the youths who need them most.

But that does not mean juveniles should not be held accountable for their actions. DJJ’s reform efforts are based on a framework that justice must be restored with a balanced approach. Our department still has much to accomplish, and our reform work is far from over.

Although we have decreased the number of lower-risk-to-reoffend youths in our residential programs, we now face higher concentrations of youths with more challenging and complex behaviors and needs. We will continue to work to meet those needs and to improve outcomes so that they can transition back into their communities and into successful adulthood.

As state law requires the department to contract with private providers, we are constantly enhancing our requirements to first and foremost ensure youths are receiving the services they require and our communities remain safe while recognizing the value of taxpayer dollars.

Florida’s juvenile justice reform work is being adopted as an innovative model in states all across our great nation. From the work out in the field of our prevention and reform specialists, to the work of our juvenile probation officers and officers in our facilities, we strive every day to provide the best services and care for our state’s at-risk and delinquent youths.

We remain deeply committed to continuing to work with stakeholders — law enforcement, the courts and providers — to ensure a system of excellence for the care of at-risk and delinquent youths, providing evidence-based and rehabilitative services so desperately needed by these children. It is not a task taken lightly or one where we don’t expect challenges. Despite those challenges, we know that we can make a difference, not only for our kids but for our communities.

Christina K. Daly is the secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

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