2011 law allowed children to be held in county jails made for adults; SB 882 before Senate committee today adds needed protections

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 15, 2013
CONTACT: ACLU of Florida Media Office, media@aclufl.org, (786) 363-2737

TALLAHASSEE –Today, the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hear testimony on SB 882 by Senator Audrey Gibson, which would protect children who are currently being held in Florida jails intended for adults.

In 2011, the Florida legislature passed SB 2112, which allows county jails intended for adults to be used to detain children under the age of 18, without requiring that the facility meet the standards for appropriate treatment, protection and rehabilitation of juveniles. In the one county that has so far implemented such a policy, Polk County, the Sheriff is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit for violating child prisoners’ 8th Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

SB 882 would protect children being held in these facilities by requiring that they be treated according to appropriate Department of Juvenile Justice standards. Among other protections, it would end the cruel practice of solitary confinement for children in adult jails and prohibit jail personnel from carrying chemical restraints (pepper spray) while in the presence of children.

The following statement on SB 882 may be attributed to ACLU of Florida staff attorney Julie Ebenstein:

“Two years ago, the legislature took a step backward for the safety, health and rehabilitation of children in the juvenile justice system by passing a law that allowed counties to imprison kids in jails made for adults. Today, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee has an opportunity to start to correct that.  

“Children are not simply miniature adults. Young people’s bodies and brains are still developing.  They are far more physically and psychologically unable to handle certain harsh prison conditions, such as solitary confinement or the use of chemical agents. SB 882 reflects the reality that the goals and standards for the treatment of child prisoners must be different.

“The kids being detained awaiting adjudication of juvenile charges are held for an average of about 10 days – they are coming back into their community. If they are exposed to solitary confinement or other dangerous prison conditions, they will come back more traumatized and damaged than they went in.

“SB 882 keeps children, and the communities they will return to, safe. We thank Senator Gibson for her work  on this bill.

More information on prison and jail conditions in Florida, as well as on the use of solitary confinement on minors, is available here:  http://aclufl.org/2013/03/13/the-sad-state-of-solitary-in-florida-is-there-hope-for-this-human-rights-violation/