Les Neuhaus - 3/7 - SaintPetersBlog

Les Neuhaus

Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.

House committee advances lobbying ban; impeachment power for attorneys, public defenders

Florida lawmakers advanced two key pieces of legislation through the House Thursday, including one to lengthen the period before elected officials could begin lobbying after their time in office.

The other bill would make state attorneys and public defenders in each judicial district eligible for impeachment under the governor’s power.

In an overwhelming vote, the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee passed PCB PIE 17-01 and HJR 999, though there was thorough debate by both the public and committee members on each measure.

PCB PIE 17-01, which has yet to be given a bill number and was introduced by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, vice chair of the committee, leaps forward from two years to six years before a former Florida lawmaker can be compensated for through connections and inherent benefits legislators reap while employed in such positions.

The intention, Sullivan said, was to hedge off corruption while re-establishing integrity in elected officials. By waiting six years, those supposed connections in the Statehouse may no longer be there, she said.

“I think it’s really important that we instill trust in this process again,” she told the committee in closing the measure after debate. “I think we owe that to the (constituents).”

For years, corruption scandals have plagued Florida lawmakers, bringing about wide skepticism among the voters of the Sunshine State.

Rep. Chuck Clemons, Sr., agreed with the amendment in debate, referencing the widespread practice of lawmakers becoming lobbyists on behalf of special interest groups due to the close connections they typically still have after leaving office.

“How do you stop the revolving door unless you stop the revolving door,” he said. “This is the ‘kill the certain perks’ bill. This is the ‘no longer fresh’ bill. You’re serving because you believe in the rock bottom idea that you are serving to serve, not to gain anything.”

But Rep. David Richardson, while in favor of the measure, had concerns it might be unconstitutional, citing a typical noncompete clause when leave a job is usually two years.

“A court could look at this down the road and ask what is a reasonable amount of time — two years is a reasonable amount of time, but beyond that it might be an unreasonable amount of time,” Richardson, an attorney, said. “Now, I think as public servants we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, but a court may say six years is too long of an amount of time.”

The committee voted unanimously in favor, with two committee members absent.

On HJR 999, the motivation behind the amendment was to hold state attorneys and public defenders throughout the state to the same accountability as other offices, Rep. Jackie Toledo, the measure’s sponsor, told the committee.

Toledo’s proposal seeks to amend the Florida Constitution to give the House authoritative powers to impeach state attorneys and public defenders in each of the state’s 20 judicial districts for violations that include misdemeanor offenses in while in office. It also subjects them to a trial by the Senate, if impeached and preserves the governor’s ongoing authority to suspend those holding such offices.

In the past, state attorneys and public defenders were exempt from such acts.

In the public debate forum, a knowledgeable and thought-provoking citizen took the podium — Brian Pitts, also known as ‘Justice-2-Jesus,” is well-known among legislators — challenging the legitimacy of Toledo’s measure.

He turned from the committee and directly addressed Toledo, who had taken a seat with the public.

“I was trying to figure out what this is fixing — what is this fixing?” he said. “They can’t be suspended by anyone except the governor. You’re not going to educate the public about this. You can read it on paper all you want, but to do it — to really do it? No way. You don’t just do something like this to do it. I don’t know what you all are doing here with this thing.”

Clemens chimed in later, saying, “It’s just looking ahead into the future in case something does happen.”

Fourteen committee members voted in favor, with one denying; three were absent.

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Two formerly troubled teens now represent Florida agency as model adults

Two young adults were honored by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Wednesday for the lives they left behind, and were named the agency’s 2017 Youth Ambassadors, according to a statement.

Secretary Christina Daly, head of the DJJ, and the Florida Juvenile Justice Foundation, along with members of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association and partners, honored the two new ambassadors at a reception at Florida’s Historic Capitol Building in Tallahassee, the statement said.

Jesus Mendoza and Alyssa Beck have unique backgrounds.

Mendoza was court-referred to the Empowered Youth program after committing a felony at the age of 15. He completed the program in the required six-month period and continued to graduate from high school. Mendoza was just accepted into college, where he plans on majoring in criminal justice. He once even stood for Empowered Youth at the White House, according to the statement.

He has not had a run-in with law enforcement since turning his life around, statement said.

Beck is a survivor of sex trafficking, now advocating for other survivors, becoming a voice for those silenced and not yet rescued, the statement said. She has dedicated her life to the eradication of human trafficking.

She works at two organizations committed to the anti-trafficking movement: the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and at Rethreaded, a nonprofit organization founded to provide work for those escaping addiction, violence, human trafficking and prostitution.

“It is important that we take a closer look at the individual youth that come across our juvenile justice system and let their stories inspire us,” Daly said in the statement. “Their stories push us forward in doing the best we can for all youth and remind us that when we come together to make a difference in the lives of others, we all achieve success.”

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Two remain missing in Gulf of Mexico waters near St. Petersburg

A college student and a chartered boat mate who was trying to save the other are still missing a day after they jumped into the waters of a channel leading out into the Gulf of Mexico near St. Petersburg, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Jie Luo, 21, from China, and Andrew Dillman, 27, went missing Tuesday after Luo jumped into the Gulf of Mexico waters off western Florida with four others, Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer First Class Michael De Nyse told FloridaPolitics.com.

The boat, a 71-foot yacht named “Jaguar,” was anchored at a point near the channel called Shell Key.

It was chartered for a four-hour cruise by 15 college students — 14 from Colorado State University and one from Stony Brook University, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who gave a news conference Wednesday afternoon in Pass-a-Grille, near the channel where the Jaguar passed through on the cruise.

The students chartered the Jaguar online from Orlando for $2,000 via Florida Yacht Charters, which set out at approximately 4 p.m. The conditions were reported to be choppy, windy and rough, Gualtieri said.

Captain Todd Davis took the students for a slow ride lasting about 45 minutes to Pass-a-Grille and decided to anchor instead of continuing into the Gulf of Mexico.  There was some discussion between the students and Davis about going snorkeling in the water after the vessel was anchored, the sheriff said.

Davis claimed he told them not to jump in the water.  But several of the students jumped into the fast-flowing waters anyway several times.

The third time the students jumped into the water, only four made it back to the vessel.  Luo was having trouble swimming back to the vessel and that’s when Dillman, jumped in attempting to assist Luo

The students later stated to officials they were not told of the dangerous conditions, Sheriff Gualtieri said.

Neither Luo nor Dillman were wearing a personal flotation device and the current began to carry both subjects out toward the Gulf of Mexico. Davis attempted to toss Dillman a personal flotation device, but the wind caught it and blew it in the opposite direction.

Davis quickly pulled in the anchor and tried to search for both swimmers near the last place he saw them but was unable to locate them, then contacted the Coast Guard.

At 6:10 p.m. Tuesday, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg watchstanders received a report from the captain of the 71-foot yacht, Jaguar, stating two males were missing from the boat.

Next of kin for Dillman and Luo have been notified and the search continues for both subjects. Alcohol was on board the vessel and there were several empty bottles.

The sheriff said “we are still in a search mode and we will continue in that mode. That is the right thing to do.”

But more than 24 hours later crews from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Station St. Petersburg and marine units from the sheriff’s office had not turned up the two. Dozens of searches have been carried out so far, with more than 1,0000 square miles covered.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Andrew and Jie during this difficult time,” said Lt. Jason Holstead, the command duty officer at Sector St. Petersburg.

“We continue work closely with our partners to search for Andrew and Jie, all of us have them and their family in our thoughts and prayers.”

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St. Pete man accused of murdering 7-week-old; abuse was to ‘toughen’ child

Jeremiah Dillard

The father of a 7-week-old girl told police he pinched her cheeks and squeezed her ribs to make her “tough.”

Instead, the St. Petersburg infant died in September after suffering a brain hemorrhage, fractured ribs, broken clavicle and split lip, according to police documents obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.

J’Lena Dillard was taken to John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in the early hours of Sept. 24, where she was pronounced dead.

According to the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, J’Lena died of “asphyxia with contributing conditions of blunt trauma and malnutrition,” said an arrest affidavit and warrant obtained by FloridaPolitics.com.

Jeremiah Dillard, 33, told St. Petersburg Police the injuries to her lip and an ear, which were lacerated, resulted from pinching and squeezing her cheeks and face. The injuries to her ribs and collar bone were because he was playing too hard with her, wanting to toughen her up, even though she was severely malnourished.

To explain that, he told detectives he was “slacking off” on feeding the child while her mother, Shefe Cotton, was at work.

After being read his Miranda Rights, the affidavit said, Dillard “admitted he was too tough with (J’Lena) and he was responsible for (her) death. The defendant also admitted he was the sole caregiver when the victim sustained the above injuries and (J’Lena) was in his custody when (she) died.”

A spokesman confirmed Dillard is expected to appear for an arraignment Monday on charges of first-degree murder in a Pinellas County courtroom.

Dillard also admitted he was smoking marijuana around the child the night he killed her, too.

“Pinellas-Pasco associate medical examiner Wayne Kurz ruled Jan. 26 that the baby’s death was a homicide caused by asphyxia and contributing factors were blunt trauma and malnutrition,” The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday. “His autopsy report noted multiple traumas to her head and scalp.”

It was roughly four and a half months later — Feb. 8, a day after investigators interviewed him again — that he volunteered he was at fault in his daughter’s death, but that it was unintentional. He was not arrested at that time, records show.

On Feb. 9, the medical examiner told police J’Lena’s body showed signs of aging, which indicated a history of abuse.

On Feb. 10, police asked Dillard to turn himself in. He was arrested in the early morning house of Feb. 11 after returning from Gainesville to see his grandmother, police documents show.

He had a previous arrest for child abuse in 2012, according to the arrest affidavit. The Tampa Bay Times reported ” Gainesville police records said Dillard beat his 14-year-old niece with a belt for talking back. The girl showed swelling and redness on her back, forearms and hands. She told police a toenail was torn off by the belt buckle.  Gainesville police said Dillard told them: ‘That’s how our daddy did it and so do we.'”

Jessica Sims, the spokesman for the Department of Children and Families (DCF), said J’Lena had never come in contact with the child welfare system and that any history relating to Dillard’s background was confidential pending an investigation. He and Cotton had another child together, which child welfare investigators took into custody, the Times reported.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll issued a statement via email to FloridaPolitics.com Wednesday.

“This child’s death is disturbing, and we are heartbroken that this community lost such a young child,” he said in the statement. “The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a child death investigation as the agency that handles all child protective investigations in Pinellas County, and remain available to assist police in any way possible.”

 

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Senate committee passes bill allowing free state park access to foster families

Legislation requiring the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to give free access to the state’s parks for foster families was passed by legislators Wednesday.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources unanimously passed bill, CS-SB 64, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Bean, would waive, or offer discounted entry, into all state parks for specified and adoptive families.

The Division of Recreation and Parks within the DEP would come up with uniform documentation standards for such families to enjoy those benefits, according to the bill.

In addition, a continuing partnership between the DEP and the Department of Children and Families would be established to promote attendance to certain events in state parks by fostered and adoptive children.

The subcommittee heard no other bills Wednesday.

 

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Despite lawsuit, Florida Lottery sees record sales; tops $100M for 2nd week

For a second consecutive week, the Florida Lottery broke its own record, with total sales of more than $141 million, the game’s chief announced Tuesday.

This record for the Sunshine State’s 29-year-old lottery comes despite a nasty lawsuit that pitted Florida Gov. Rick Scott against the state’s headstrong House Speaker, Rep. Richard Corcoran.

For the second successive week, the Florida Lottery’s contributions to the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund (EETF) exceeded $19 million from scratch-off sales alone.

Total scratch-off sales for the week reached $103.23 million, with overall sales hitting $141.28 million.

Additionally, this marks the second consecutive week in Florida Lottery history that scratch-off sales exceeded $100 million in a single week.

“The consistent scratch-off sales demonstrated by the Florida Lottery over the past two weeks are integral to our mission to generate as much revenue as possible towards public education,” said Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie. “The lottery remains committed to providing Florida’s students with the opportunities they need to be successful in school and in life.”

Over the past 29 years, the Florida Lottery has established itself as a dependable funding source for public education.

For 15 consecutive years, the Lottery has transferred more than $1 billion to education throughout the state while remaining one of the most efficient lotteries in the nation. Additionally, the Lottery has contributed more than $5 billion to the Bright Futures Scholarship Program to send over 750,000 students to college.

Florida Lottery contributions are approximately 6 percent of the state’s total education budget. Lottery funds are appropriated by the Florida Legislature and are administered by the Florida Department of Education.

The Florida Lottery reinvests 98 percent of its revenue back into Florida’s economy through prize payouts, commissions to more than 13,000 Florida retailers and transfers to education. Since 1988, Florida Lottery games have paid more than $52.4 billion in prizes and made more than 1,900 people millionaires.

On March 7, a Leon County Judge Karen Gievers invalidated the Florida Lottery’s $700-million contract for new equipment, agreeing with Corcoran that the agency went on an unauthorized spending bonanza when it made the deal in 2016.

The multiple-year contract involved new equipment for draw and scratch-off tickets. The lottery sold more than $6.2 billion in tickets in 2016, according to records.

“The Florida Lottery continues to make record contributions to our public schools and today’s ruling jeopardizes billions of dollars for Florida students,” Gov. Scott said in a statement March 7. “I strongly disagree with today’s decision, and we will appeal.”

Corcoran, in a statement joined by House Rules Committee Chair Jose Oliva and Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Sprowls, called the decision “a victory for the taxpayer and the rule of law.”

He continued, basking in the much-publicized showdown with the governor: “It reinforces the idea that respecting the separation of powers is not an arcane idea or an out-of-date philosophy,” they said. “In truth, it is one of the bedrock principles of our Republican government and is essential to protecting the liberties and livelihoods of Floridians.

“No branch of government is above the law, and the people’s House will use every power within our means – from the committee room to the courtroom – to ensure those liberties and livelihoods are protected.”

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Bill to stop repeat ER overdose visits moves through first House committee

A bill seeking to reduce the number of patients visiting hospital emergency rooms repetitively from drug overdoses passed Tuesday unanimously in its first hearing in the House Health Innovation Subcommittee.

Rep. Larry Lee Jr., the sponsor of HB 61, drafted the measure as a means for hospitals to gain more control when dealing with the issue of their emergency rooms being used as free turnstile stops for addicts who accidentally overdose on illicit – and often prescription – drugs over and over again.

The burden placed on emergency room staff that are often busy helping people in life-threatening situations (like car accidents) have become a paramount problem in the health care industry, as has the issue of insurance hikes to Florida taxpayers who wind up footing the bill for addicts who don’t pay for their visits to emergency rooms.

HB 61 would stop that by allowing hospitals with emergency rooms to develop what Lee called a “best practices policy” for ER staff to obtain the patient’s family contacts, or next of kin, and the physician contacts who prescribe medication to those with repetitive overdose issues. The location of the patient would also be given to those family and doctor contacts, along with exactly what kind of drugs or prescription the patient OD’d on – documenting the entire visit to prevent another overdose.

“It has been a lot of work put into this bill … in speaking with staff at different facilities, I learned there have been 15 years put into this bill,” Lee told the committee in closing.

Rep. Daisy Baez, a member of the committee and a former hospital employee, commended Rep. Lee for getting the bill drafted.

“I worked for 10 years as a health care worker and dealt with this issue directly,” Baez told Lee before the committee vote. “We don’t want to burden staffs who are actually trying to treat others in true emergencies, so that’s why I’m going to support this bill.”

The bill also provides emergency rooms with ways to provide the patient with information about licensed substance abuse treatment services, voluntary admission procedures, involuntary admission procedures and involuntary commitment process.

Also, the measure would set up formal guidelines for ER staff to prescribe controlled substances to such patients to reduce opioid use and misuse. Opioid addiction has become an epidemic across the country in the last 10 years.

Licensed or certified behavioral health professionals would also be staffed in ER departments, per the bill’s requirement, to advise patients to seek addiction treatment.

According to data from the Florida Department of Health, between 2004 and 2009, emergency department visits nationally involving the nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals increased 98.4 percent, from 627,291 visits to 1,244,679 visits. In 2009, almost 1 million emergency room visits nationwide involved illicit drugs, either alone or in combination with other drugs.

From 2008 to 2011, about half of all emergency department visits in the U.S. for both unintentional and self-inflicted drug poisoning involved drugs in the categories of analgesics, antipyretics and antirheumatics or sedatives, hypnotics, tranquilizers and other psychotropic agents.

Opiates or related narcotics, including heroin and methadone, accounted for 14 percent of emergency department visits nationally for unintentional drug poisoning from 2008 to 2011. In Florida, there were approximately 21,700 opioid-related emergency department visits in 2014.

Separately, the committee also passed four other measures Tuesday:  HB 863HB 993HB 1195 and HB 1209.

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Senate committee recommends Glenn Sutphin for Veteran Affairs director

The Senate Committee on Military and Veteran’s Affairs, Space and Domestic Security recommended Glenn W. Sutphin, Jr. as the executive director of Florida’s Department of Veteran’s Affairs Tuesday.

Sutphin, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott and a retired, was voted to his post unanimously by the committee.

He joined the military June 6, 1969, serving 30 years in the U.S. Army. His family has history of military service. Having served under Gov. Jeb Bush, he helped to foster an environment in Florida for veterans to be welcome, he said at the committee hearing.

“One of my jobs was to get units ready, get them out the door, the wounded back and unfortunately those who we had lost – try to get them back to their families, and get them taken care of,” he told the committee Tuesday. “All my life I’ve either lead troops, trained troops or cared for their families.”

His ethos in his military service, he said, consisted of these three things:  No mission was to be refused; no was not an answer; and failure was not an option.

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Man pleads guilty in beating death of 2-year-old after ‘accident’ on bed

A Jacksonville toddler died after being struck with a plastic coat hanger until it broke because the 2-year-old girl had an “accident” on the bed of her mother’s boyfriend.

Jamarius Devonti Graham used a belt and hangers in the past to teach the girl potty training — she had already been spanked an estimated 20 times — says a newspaper report.

The Duval County state attorney’s office confirmed a medical examiner’s report, spokesman David Chapman told FloridaPolitics.com Tuesday.

On April 21, 2016, Graham was baby-sitting Aaliyah Lewis when the incident occurred. After the mother discovered injuries to her daughter, she and Graham waited 90 minutes before seeking medical attention for Aaliyah, even after her breathing became labored, according to the Florida Times-Union. The newspaper had cited a report by the Department of Children and Services (DCF) about the episode.

Graham, 21, pleaded guilty in a Jacksonville courtroom to aggravated child abuse in connection to Aaliyah’s beating death and faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if found guilty, Chapman said.

“The girl, whose body was tattered with fresh bruises and lacerations, was dead when she arrived at UF Health Jacksonville,” the Times-Union article said. “An autopsy found that she had multiple traumatic injuries to her head, torso and extremities, as well as fluid and swelling in her lungs and brain. But the Medical Examiner’s Office could not determine the cause of death.”

The couple had apparently communicated multiple times by phone throughout the day Aaliyah died, according to the report, the newspaper said. They spoke around midday, too, and Graham told the mother he had disciplined Aaliyah for the accident on the bed, assuring the mother he hadn’t been too harsh on the toddler.

But the mother had noticed during a video phone call that Aaliyah was crying.

When Graham picked her up from work, she noticed marks on the child’s chest, the newspaper said. She scared to seek medical attention for fear of the state taking her daughter away, she apparently told investigators.

No charges have been filed against the child’s mother, the Times-Union reported.

FloridaPolitics.com tried to contact a representative from DCF, but did not immediately receive a response before the publishing of this article.

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Report: Delinquency down in Florida, despite a host of challenges

Despite a host of problems facing the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, it has managed to lower youth arrests for nonviolent offenses through the increased use of civil citations, according to a 2017 report on the government agency by the Florida Juvenile Justice Association.

According to the FJJA report, acquired by FloridaPolitics.com before its public release, 121,968 children were served by the DJJ in fiscal year 2015-2016, with the majority of children being served in their own communities. The annual review of the department is part of an ongoing overhaul of the system begun five years ago to reform what many experts called the worst system in the nation.

Juvenile arrests have dropped another seven percent during the same period, resulting in an overall six-year decline of 37 percent, the report said, citing the most recent delinquency report released by the DJJ itself.

Much of that decline was achieved through educating law enforcement agencies of the benefits in issuing civil citations in instances of first-time encounters with police for non-violent offenses. This isn’t a get out of jail freebee, said Catherine Craig-Myers, executive director of the FJJA.

“Florida’s communities are seeing a more troubled child needing intensive services and multiple interventions, as well as ‘crossover youth,’” Craig-Myers told FloridaPolitics.com on Monday, referring to minors who have had contact with both child welfare programs and the juvenile justice system. “Florida still leads the nation in prosecuting children charged with non-violent offenses as adults.”

She said children in the Sunshine State’s DJJ residential treatment program have the most complex set of clinical behavioral needs. Keeping these particularly vulnerable youth from becoming criminalized is a paramount issue.

And without a significant investment to increase the number of qualified, highly-trained staff on hand to shepherd these youth their problems, continued success could be problematic. The FJJA director said there’s a need to work more closely with Florida’s school districts in order to better ensure troubled children are identified early on.

Since 2009, two years prior to the state’s DJJ reform plan went into action, there’s been more than $100 million cut from the agency’s annual budget, negatively impacting the at-risk youth the agency is trying to serve, the report stated.

Clearly, though, the agency is doing more with fewer resources.

According to the report, among the Florida counties showing the most improvement are Miami-Dade with a 12 percent decrease, Broward with an 8 percent decrease, Orange with a 7 percent decrease, with a 6 percent decrease and Hillsborough with a 2 percent decrease.

But without sufficient annual support from the state’s leadership, those numbers could begin to slip. Keeping children out off the so-called “school to pipeline path would be a challenge, Craig-Myers said.

When asked whether the current improvements could be sustained, she was blunt.

“Our report assumes that without continued reinvestment to expand prevention, to maintain quality staff and their retention, and to institute training focused on rehabilitation and treatment, rather than punishment and incarceration, the answer would be no,” she said. “In my opinion the ongoing discourse about how we are doing – in terms of serving foster, or dependent, children – should serve as a ‘cautionary tale’ to inform our efforts to successfully serve pre-delinquent and delinquent children.”

She said fully expanding the system would take time and should be viewed as a long-term goal. Reform needs to go beyond one governor and one administration, with a focus on “saving youth” now and “cost avoidance” to taxpayers later.

Statewide use of civil citations by law enforcement has been good, overall, but can improve.

A second annual report by the Tampa-based Caruthers Institute, called Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Juvenile Civil Citation Efforts 2016, reveals research about counties that are simply arresting children rather than issuing civil citations. By its account, the institute has determined police actually create recidivism, or re-offenders, who generate more crime.

“There are some people who are committed to tough on crime than smart on crime,” Dewey Caruthers told FloridaPolitics.com on Monday when asked about county sheriffs around the state who arrest rather than issue citations. “When you arrest youth for these minor infractions – and we’re talking about misdemeanor stuff here, we’re not talking about grand theft auto and things like that – you’re actually creating more re-offenders, which runs counter to the mission of law enforcement reducing crime.”

Caruthers said there are two segments of youth who get into trouble:  the ones who have done something for the first time and get caught, who represent the overwhelming majority of overall teen or preteen offenders; and then there are the kids who have real issues – their home life may be bad, disorganized, they could be bullied at home or have substance abuse problems, Caruthers said.

Florida legislators passed a measure on March 8 in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Civil Justice eliminating police discretion in response calls involving first-time offending juveniles. SB 196, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores was passed unanimously, but was opposed by both the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the Florida Police Chief’s Association. The bill is another part of reforms happening at various levels to stop the criminalization of minors prior to adulthood.

Statewide during 2015, juvenile civil citations were issued 50 percent of the time by law enforcement for those youth who were eligible. The Caruthers study noted stark differences in how civil citations were applied by law enforcers in rural vs. urban settings, and in a range of socio-economic residential areas.

The FJJA report recommends increasing the use of civil citations by 75 percent statewide, estimating it would “improve life outcomes for nearly 7,000 arrested children as well as save $62 million that could be applied more appropriately. It may be necessary to provide appropriate funding to ensure increase utilization and to address geographic disparity.”

Thirteen counties across the state don’t issue citations at all, including Polk, Bradford, Dixie, Calhoun and Holmes. Among the best counties utilizing the civil citation programs are Miami-Dade, Pinellas, Monroe, Leon and Broward.

Separately, keeping personnel on staff with DJJ has been a major problem. The average employee stays on for less than six months, according to the report.

“Five years into reform both DJJ and its partnering community providers are struggling to retain the professionals needed to ensure quality service delivery,” the report said.

Personnel leave for obvious reasons – higher paying jobs with opportunities for career advancement. This low retention rate is a burden for partnering organizations of the DJJ and the agency itself, which has trouble in service continuity to the at-risk youth they are trying to help.

Former Florida DJJ Sec. Wansley Walters chimed in on the situation facing the state.

“The work to complete the reform is not yet finished and will require a second phase to reinvest resources, strengthen service delivery, and ensure service gaps identified by the department are filled,” she said in a statement. “These efforts will, in turn, slow down the pipeline that exists that feeds our children to the adult prison system.”

Craig-Myers was just as direct in her assessment of the report.

“This report, looking at the success of the DJJ’s reform effort five years later, will inform stakeholders, partners and decision makers on what may be necessary to ensure sustainability of reform,” she said.

“Five years into reform, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is experiencing success.  But there is more work left to be done. Our recommendations are made in the spirit of collaboration and optimism that reform of Florida’s juvenile justice system will continue.”

FJJA had these key recommendations to sustain continued success of the DJJ’s reform plan:

— Stabilize the juvenile justice workforce through reinvestment in staffing.

— Sustain the workforce through a training and certification system.

— Reduce prosecution of nonviolent children as adults. (SB192)

— Ensure availability of deep-end residential services. (now a very small percentage of DJJ youth)

— Ensure availability of community-based behavioral services.

— Identify service gaps and institute programming. (Girls, LGBTQ, Crossover, Trafficked)

— Expand utilization of civil citation. (currently at 50 percent of all eligible youth — SB196, HB205)

— Expand prevention and early intervention. (return $9.1M in Prevention taken last year)

— Ensure availability of services in collaboration with DJJ, DCF and local community agencies. (i.e. crossover youth, behavioral services)

— Ensure education and career education opportunities for DJJ youth. (expanded focus on career education)

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