September 20, 2012

Child Advocates, Parents Oppose Florida Jail Standards on Youth Detention

September 20, 2012

ACLU of Florida Media Office, 786-363-2737,

OCALA – CRepresentatives from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), child advocates, and concerned community members urged Florida sheriffs to protect children from abusive conditions in county-run adult jails at a Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) program meeting held today to review proposed revisions to the state’s jail standards.

“Children are not miniature adults," stated Julie Ebenstein, Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Florida. "They have different needs in terms of the supervision and care required for rehabilitation. Recklessly tossing children into a justice system built for adults puts their entire future at risk.”
Attendees at the meeting delivered testimony to the Florida Model Jail Standards (FMJS) standards review subcommittee – a program of the FSA – about the horrific abuses youths face in adult jails and presented proposed revisions to the current jail standards for county jails that detain children.

“The current jail standards fail to protect children from the unnecessary dangers that adult jails pose to their physical and emotional well-being,” said Tania Galloni, managing attorney for the SPLC’s Florida office. “While we don’t believe children should be housed in county-run adult jails at all, Florida sheriffs and counties should at the very least adopt protective standards to ensure that all children are safe.”

Leonard Dixon, Executive Director of the Wayne County (Mich.) Juvenile Detention Facility and nationally recognized expert on best practices in juvenile detention, gave testimony to members of the subcommittee about the use of pepper spray against youth. “As the director of a detention center in a gang infested city like Detroit, I see some tough kids. The idea that pepper spray is necessary to control youth in secure detention is simply not true,” said Dixon. “Sound programming, well trained staff, and leadership who actually like kids make facilities safe, not dangerous chemical weapons.”

In 2011, Florida lawmakers passed SB 2112, allowing counties to place children in adult jails as long as their facility met the Florida Model Jail Standards, as opposed to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) standards, which were designed to meet the needs of children. The subcommittee has previously rejected many DJJ standards and has allowed local sheriff’s

Also in attendance at today’s meeting were David Utter, policy and legislative director for the SPLC’s Florida office; and representatives from the ACLU, AWAKE Marion, and Florida Institutional Legal Services.

The SPLC filed a federal lawsuit against Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd in March for subjecting children held at the county’s adult jail to abuse, neglect and violence – including the routine use of pepper spray against children. In a video released today by the SPLC, Kevin and Lisa Jobe discuss their 15-year-old son’s experience in the Polk County Jail and how it has affected the family. It can be viewed here:

Shortly after Judd initiated the program, the ACLU of Florida, members of the NAACP and a former Secretary of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice held a press conference in Polk County to demand that Judd stop detaining children as young as ten years old in his jail designated to house adults. Information about that press conference can be found here:

National research shows that children held in adult jails are twice as likely to suffer assault, abuse, and even death as children held in juvenile facilities. Several states have passed legislation prohibiting the placement of children in adult jails. Florida legislators bucked this promising trend when they passed a law that could more funnel children into adult jails throughout the state of Florida.

“Jail is no place for children,” said Galloni. “The rush to take over juvenile detention from the state was ill conceived and has been implemented poorly, with truly harmful consequences to our children. Florida should protect its children by adopting standards that reflect sound juvenile justice policy.”

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