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News-Press, Fort Myers, Fla., on Department of Juvenile Justice costing a burden for counties:

As the state and Florida counties battle over who should pay for juvenile detention facilities, we are worried that at-risk youth will be the ones caught in the crossfire and not receive the necessary help and support.

As the wrangling continues between the state and counties, there is one constant - Florida has a juvenile crime problem. The state’s incarceration rate for youths is higher than 10 of the most populated states, exceeding the national rate by 40 percent. In 2012, there were more than 58,000 arrested.

No agency, or individual should be able to defy a court order. Despite DJJ facing a $54 million deficit because of the judgments and cuts in Medicaid funding, Gov. Rick Scott must get control. DJJ faces enormous financial challenges for a young crime population that is among the largest in the country.

There are solutions and they start with prevention and treatment through active community-based outreach programs and more tolerance for misdemeanor offenses.

It started to spiral out of control in 2004. That’s when the Legislature mandated that counties share in the costs for juvenile secure detention. This only applied to nonfiscally constrained counties, those that were able to afford it. T

In 2008-09, juvenile justice changed the rules without changing the statute. It billed counties for all secure detention days except those incurred while a child awaited assignment to a residential facility. The counties went to court and judges said the DJJ’s rules were “internally inconsistent and not supported by facts or logic.”

We support the Florida Association of Counties position on seeking a stronger statute that focuses on a better business model and structured payment plan that does not allow for interpretation. The state must continue to look at community-based sanctions or citations that keep children from long stays in these facilities, costing counties more than $200 a day for each child. The average length of stay in the 21 secured facilities is 12 days, according to DJJ.

The Florida Association of Counties is bringing this issue front and center during the 2014 legislative session, and it should. The funding system is broken. State and county leaders must find sensible ways to distribute the costs. The winners here must be the kids.

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