Walter McNeil, the former Tallahassee police chief chosen by Gov. Charlie Crist to head Florida’s juvenile justice system, has promised a balanced approach, reducing the use of lockups and investing in less expensive prevention programs that stop teens from skipping school, joining gangs, and committing crimes, reports the Palm Beach Post. Legislative leaders and youth advocates are surprised that the agency presented budget plans that would do just the opposite – chopping millions from programs proven to reform teens who have not yet committed crimes as adults.
As the state copes with a $1.1 billion budget shortfall, Republican Rep. Mitch Needelman, chairman of the House Committee on Juvenile Justice, said the agency’s “appalling” proposed cuts would sabotage Florida’s attempts at juvenile justice reform. The proposal would take $3 million from Redirections, a program the legislature established in 2004 and expanded to a budget of more than $11 million earlier this year. The program, which provides intense therapy for families of teens who are violating probation and committing crimes, would be forced to scale back its expansion plans by 422 teens statewide. The governor’s plan also would hamper a planned expansion of the PACE Center for Girls, a day school and counseling program. Roy Miller, who advocates for children’s issues as head of the Children’s Campaign, said, “It appears that some advisers in the governor’s budget office haven’t gotten the word about the new direction of public safety and juvenile justice in Florida.”