Legislature set to dismantle juvenile boot camps
TALLAHASSEE-Nearly four months after a Panhandle teen died after a beating by boot camp guards that was
videotaped, lawmakers agreed Tuesday to do away with the military-style detention facilities altogether.
"Boot camps for juveniles are going to be deleted from the state of Florida and they are not going to exist in the
state of Florida," Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, said during budget negotiations between the House and Senate
Tuesday evening. "They are going to be replaced with programs that we have more confidence in and programs
that we think will result in success for our juveniles." The boot camps will be replaced with Sheriffs Training and
Respect facilities, based largely on the acclaimed Martin County Juvenile Offender Training Center, that focus on
self-esteem and after-care and prohibit physical interaction of any kind between guards and detainees. Guards at
the revamped camps will also be prohibited from using psychological intimidation on the youths.
The act doing away with the boot camps, at which at least seven youths have died in the past six years, is named
after Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old honor student who died after being beaten by Bay County Sheriff's Boot
Camp guards on Jan. 5, the day he entered the facility. No one has been charged in the case, and the sheriff's
office has said the guards were trying to get Anderson to participate after he became uncooperative in doing
exercises that were part of his admission to the camp. He was placed there for taking his grandmother's car on a joy
ride. The Panama City camp has since closed. Rep. Gus Barreiro, chairman of the House Criminal Justice
Appropriations Committee, has spearheaded efforts to close the camps.
On Tuesday, Senate budget negotiators agreed with Barreiro, allocating $10.5 million to convert the current camps
to the new system. That's about $500,000 more than lawmakers spent on seven boot camps last year, but the
money will now be divided among four STAR camps. Although Martin County Sheriff Robert Crowder has said he
plans to close his camp this year and not reopen it because the legislature's proposed funding is inadequate,
Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, said he has promised Crowder he would get Martin County enough money to reopen its
camp as one of the STAR camps. Youths entering the camps will now be told of their right to outside counsel, given
abuse hot line telephone numbers and undergo physical exams that will also be performed when they exit the
"So we will know when you leave you were in the same shape you were in," Smith said. "In the end, today is the
beginning of a new day in the sense of juvenile boot camps in Florida. They will not exist." Barreiro said Tuesday
that other sheriffs who operate boot camps in Florida were "alarmed at what happened at the Bay County boot
camp." "They understood that changes had to occur," he said. In response to Anderson's death, college students
last week staged a 33-hour sit-in outside Gov. Jeb Bush's office and 2,000 supporters marched on the Capitol
Friday for a rally featuring Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who demanded the release of a second autopsy report.
The first autopsy by Bay County Medical Examiner Charles Seibert ruled that Anderson died of "natural causes" due
to complications associated with sickle cell anemia trait. Bush appointed Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark
Ober to take over the case, and Ober ordered a second autopsy by the Hillsborough County medical examiner. A
third medical examiner hired by Anderson's family observed that autopsy and said the teen died of asphyxiation.
Barreiro said that he expects the second autopsy results to be released within two weeks, and that Ober's
investigation should be completed sometime shortly after that. Department of Juvenile Justice chief of staff Christian
Caballero told lawmakers on Tuesday that the agency welcomes the changes. "I do think we can make this better.
We have to make this better. Kids' lives are on the line," he said.