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Department of Juvenile Justice’s Wish List for 2010

State juvenile justice officials are attempting to tick off more of the recommendations from a nearly two year old commission report that made suggestions on how Florida could improve the juvenile justice system.

Last year, the Department of Juvenile Justice trumpeted its success in getting a “zero tolerance” law passed and said the law would give educators more flexibility and control over who is referred to law enforcement authorities. The law requires districts to define offenses that pose a serious threat to school safety, and would also allow minor offenses to be handled by the school.

The initial proposal came out of a report from the Blueprint Commission, chaired by former lieutenant governor and current university system Chancellor Frank Brogan, released in January 2008. Now, the Department of Juvenile Justice is developing its 2010 legislative agenda around other recommendations from the report.

A major part of the department's developing agenda, a work in progress still being finalized, is a proposal to put in statute several programs the department already runs, such as a group that works to address the high proportion of minorities in the system and a mothers and infants residential program.

Jason Welty, legislative director for the department, said the proposals will be fiscally neutral – important given the state's perilous fiscal condition - but will aim to put into law programs that the department thinks will be key in reaching juveniles.

The mothers and infants residential program, for example, is a largely educational program targeted at teens who have just given birth to their own children.

“It's to teach them how to break the cycle of delinquency,” Welty said.

The disproportionate minority contact task force is another big project that DJJ has been working to institutionalize. In the Florida juvenile justice system, a disproportionate number of the children are minorities.

In 2007-2008, African-Americans represented 22 percent of all children aged 10-17. But they were 43 percent of the referrals to the juvenile justice system, drawing concern from state and federal officials. Nationwide, criminal justice officials have seen similar numbers.

DJJ staffers have been crisscrossing the state talking to criminal justice stakeholders plus community and faith-based leaders to educate them about the statistics and hopefully get them involved through volunteer programs.

Other parts of the proposal include diverting children aged 9 and younger who commit first time offenses, encouraging the use of certain types of behavior programs meant to get youth to take responsibility for their actions, allowing increased membership of the current juvenile justice boards and councils, clarifying that youth in court-ordered community service continue to receive liability coverage, and streamlining deadlines for the department's statutorily required program reports.

Welty said he is still working with other juvenile justice officials to finalize other proposals for the 2010 legislative session and lining up lawmakers to sponsor bills.

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