October 5, 2020

Cutting Funding for Youth Diversion and Prevention Programs is a Step Backward

Gov. Ron DeSantis slashed nearly $1 billion in this year’s budget due to the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. The enacted budget, including the governor’s line-item vetoes, cut Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) funding by $13 million. For a department that has struggled to provide adequate educational programming, and has experienced high turnover rates for staff, these cuts will have a sizable impact on the department, community-based organizations, and justice-involved youth.   

There are three program areas within the DJJ budget that bore the brunt of the cuts. 

Community supervision programs saw a $2.6 million reduction in funding, a 3 percent cut. These programs include services for youth who are on supervised release — like probation — and other family-based programs designed to increase family engagement, help reduce recidivism, and keep youth from being placed back into residential facilities.   

Lawmakers cut $4.6 million in non-secured residential commitment program funding, a 4 percent budget reduction. These programs may allow youth to have supervised access to the community. To address DJJ’s high turnover rate, the Legislature had allocated $2 million for retention bonuses for employees who work at non-secure residential facilities, but this was ultimately vetoed by the governor. In 2018, the department experienced a 64 percent turnover rate among entry-level detention officers in all its 21 detention centers (secure and non-secure), which housed 12,290 youths. This allocation would have significantly helped officers who are overworked and burned out while contributing to greater safety for detained youths.  

The budget also reduced funding for delinquency prevention and diversion programs by $6.1 million, or 4 percent. Diversion programs in the state have two models: intervention and prevention. The prevention approach targets youth with factors that research has shown to potentially lead to delinquency. Whereas, the intervention approach seeks out youth who have been in contact with the juvenile justice system and demonstrated a high likelihood of re-offense. An example of this is civil citations, an alternative to arrest: from June 2019 to May 2020, out of 12,266 youth who are eligible for arrest, roughly 7,309 youths, or 60 percent, received civil citations and other arrest alternatives.  

Additionally, prevention and diversion programs offer great long-term fiscal benefits for the state. By intervening for youth and giving them an alternative to arrests, and preventing them from entering the juvenile justice system, the programs not only offer a turn-around opportunity for youth and their families, but also help save the state millions of dollars in arrests, delinquency processing, and detaining. Therefore, this cut in funding will have adverse effects on communities across the state. 

It’s imperative that the Legislature identifies new revenue-raising options upon returning to Tallahassee, so that departments like DJJ, which have been under severe budget constraints pre-COVID-19, won’t continue to receive budget cuts. More needs to be done to promote the safety and wellbeing of those who need these services the most.  

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