Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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National Report Praises Florida Alternatives to 'Locking Up' Juveniles  

TALLAHASSEE, FL - When kids act up, locking them up is the wrong thing to do in most cases, says a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group director, Bart Lubow, says decades of research, along with new data, show that putting kids behind bars doesn't keep them from criminality later. It also shows the practice fails to provide public-safety benefits, wastes taxpayer money and exposes young people to violence and abuse, while in almost every case, the "crimes" they had committed were minor.

Read the full report, "No Place for Kids, The Case for Reducing Juvenile Incarceration, here.

"The majority are either charged with nonviolent offenses, or are there primarily for acts of defiance relative to an adult."

Florida's successful Redirection Program offers treatment as an alternative to incarceration, and is showcased in the report because statistics show a substantial drop in repeat offenders. From 2004 to 2008, it's estimated the program saved Florida taxpayers $41.6 million.

Since the research shows locking kids up in corrections centers or "training schools" hasn't paid off, director David Utter of the Florida Youth Initiative thinks it's timely that Florida is exploring alternatives that focus on treatment and supervision. But he points out that the state's Redirection Program still has a ways to go.

"The problem with Florida is it doesn't use more of that program. So, we are still out of the mainstream by overusing residential care in Florida."

Utter says 80 percent of juvenile facilities are run by for-profit private companies under state contract, and notes that moving juvenile offenders out of residential facilities cuts into the profits of those companies.

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