Letter To County Commissioners: Children and Jails

Roy Miller, President and Founder of The Children's Campaign

Below is a letter sent to every elected County Commissioner and appointed Chief County Administrator in Florida
pertaining to Senate Bill 2112 becoming a law. The letter expresses concern for children being placed in county jails
rather than detention centers under the protection and oversight of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Please get
behind the effort to discourage counties from exercising their option to detain children in county jails designed and
operated for adults.

September 21, 2011
We write as concerned stakeholders and child advocates to urge you to not place the future of our children in our
sheriff’s jails.

For over 40 years, children accused of delinquent acts have been detained in the care of the State of Florida, most
recently with the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). This past legislative session, without a single hearing in a
substantive legislative committee, and no public discussion in our state House of Representatives, Senate Bill 2112
became law.

In spite of counties being instrumental forty years ago in the removal of children from jails, this law was passed this
year with the strong support of the Florida Association of Counties (FAC), without convening or receiving direct input
from children’s advocates. The failure to communicate with the advocacy community was especially troublesome
because in past years we assisted the counties to beat back attempts by others to house more children in detention
at even greater cost.

Even though the old law allowed sheriffs and counties to operate juvenile detention, the law mandated that they
meet standards designed to protect children and comply with oversight and training by the DJJ. SB 2112 removed
the protections and DJJ oversight. The new law allows counties to permit sheriffs and even private, for-profit
companies to detain children in local jails—under standards developed by the Florida Sheriffs’ Association (FSA),
not the DJJ.

The standards subsequently developed and approved by the FSA do not follow best practices for children, and even
allow sheriffs’ deputies to use electronic and chemical weapons on children, inside the jails. This is true in spite of
DJJ’s long history of safely and securely detaining children without such weapons and recent media coverage of
decreases in the use of force on children in DJJ facilities.

We respect and appreciate the important role of our sheriffs. Their experience, however, is in the operation of adult
jails, not children placed in detention centers.

For decades it has been well understood that children involved with the court system have developmental needs that
make them particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect in an institutional setting. For decades, therefore, Floridians
have placed children accused of delinquent acts in the care of the DJJ.

While not perfect by any means, DJJ has developed standards and policies that recognize the difference between
adults and children. The FSA’s jail standards committee has developed juvenile specific standards, which in many
ways rejects firm requirements that protect children and treat them differently than adults.

Housing children in adult jails puts youth at risk at the point where they are already most vulnerable.  While the new
law follows the federal law mandating sight and sound separation from adults, no protections exist for children from
the other harsh realities of adult jail.

Well established research tells us that children held in adult jails is a bad idea, both for the children detained there
and for our communities.  Indeed, over 20 years ago the American Jail Association passed a resolution condemning
the placement of youth in adult jails.

We understand that the primary reason SB 2112 became law is frustration with the cost of detention.  Lobbyists with
FAC and FSA argued that DJJ’s housing of juveniles costs too much and that sheriffs could do it cheaper.  This was
true even though the Governor’s budget proposed enormous relief to the counties on the issue–almost twenty
million dollars in savings this year alone—and DJJ’s new leadership pledged to work with counties to fix the problem.  
Money Is Not The Issue—The Safety of Our Children and Communities Is More Important!

Over 40 years ago, Florida responded to the scores of incidents of children being raped, assaulted, and abused
while being held in adult jails by mandating that all children arrested and held for trial in the juvenile justice system
be held in detention facilities operated by the state.  The new law allowing counties and sheriffs to take on this task
without oversight and without making sure they have the resources or expertise to handle children properly puts
youth at risk.

The new law allows you to exercise an option to continue detaining juveniles in the juvenile justice system in facilities
operated by the state’s DJJ, under standards developed over years of research and based on what works for
troubled youth, or to allow sheriffs to detain youth in adult jails under standards written by the FSA, exposing local
taxpayers to expensive litigation.

We urge you to reject this enormous step backward and continue to work with the DJJ to protect and serve our most
vulnerable children.


Andrea Costello, Attorney, Florida Institutional Legal Services

Amy Guinan, Attorney, Florida Legal Services

Carrie Lee, Director, Juvenile Justice Center

David Utter, Policy & Legislative Director, Florida Youth Initiative, Southern Poverty Law Center

Roy Miller, President, The Children’s Campaign