Bill Reforming Florida’s Juvenile Justice System Has Some Calling For More Reform

Bob McClure, ROC signatory and president of the James Madison Institute, “applauds the effort” of Florida’s bill to reform juvenile justice, but believes that more can be done.

“We feel it important to codify the principles and practices borne out by research in Florida’s juvenile justice program that saves money and ensures positive outcomes for children.”

Click here for the full story.

James Madison Institute “A Tale of Two States”

On September 24, The James Madison Institute hosted a forum in partnership with The Florida State University’s Project on Accountable Justice and St. Petersburg College Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions to discuss what Florida can learn from Georgia’s successful juvenile justice reforms. The public forum was titled “A Tale of Two Cities: What Can Florida Learn From Georgia’s Criminal and Juvenile Justice Reforms?” and featured The Honorable Michael P. Boggs, Judge, Georgia Court of Appeals, Co-Chair, Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, The Honorable Jay Neal, Member, Georgia House of Representatives, W. Thomas Worthy, Deputy Executive Counsel, and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, Co-Chair, Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

Click here to watch the full video.

Reason Magazine mentions our work

This morning on Fox News Sunday Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gave his most extensive answer yet on how he feels about U.S. drug laws. The short version: He doesn’t endorse legalizing drugs, but he also doesn’t want to lock up nonviolent offenders for “extended periods of time.”

All that said, there’s another way to look at Paul’s statements on Fox (and at CPAC), and that’s in the context of what other Republicans and conservatives are saying. If you compare Paul only to his colleagues in the Senate, yes, he sounds like a pioneer. But if you broaden the comparison to include Republicans outside the Senate, Paul is coming late to this way of thinking.

Former drug warriors Newt Gingrich, Ed Meese, Asa Hutchinson, and Bill Bennet have all come out against incarcerating low-level nonviolent drug offenders. Republican Governors Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota,Nathan Deal of Georgia, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and John Kasich of Ohio have not only come out against imprisoning low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, they’ve signed legislation that diverts more of those offenders from prison into community supervision programs. Conservative state-level think tanks across the country–from Right on Crime in Texas, to the James Madison Institute in Florida–are pushing for alternative sentencing.

The Conservative Case Against More Prisons

Our policy experts Vikrant Reddy and Marc Levin wrote an excellent piece recently for The American Conservative magazine. It’s entitled, “The Conservative Case Against More Prisons” and appeared in the latest issue of the magazine.

Here is an excerpt:

There are other ways to hold offenders—particularly nonviolent ones—accountable. These alternatives when properly implemented can lead to greater public safety and increase the likelihood that victims of crime will receive restitution. The alternatives are also less costly. Prisons are expensive (in some states, the cost of incarcerating an inmate for one year approaches $60,000), and just as policymakers should scrutinize government expenditures on social programs and demand accountability, they should do the same when it comes to prison spending. None of this means making excuses for criminal behavior; it simply means “thinking outside the cell” when it comes to punishment and accountability.

Florida Seeks to Increase Juvenile Diversions

Across Florida, municipalities are saving millions and keeping youth who do not need formal processing out of the system through the use of civil citations. Civil citations are eligible only for youth who have committed a misdemeanor or local ordinance violation, and involve supervision, treatment, and community service in lieu of arrest.

In return, a youth has the opportunity to learn from his or her mistakes and avoid formal processing, and the county can save money in law enforcement and court costs. And youths who received a civil citation reoffend far less than those on probation, which is likely where those youths would have been placed after formal processing.

The system is so successful that the Florida Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, is personally travelling to counties that have not yet fully implemented a civil citations system and encouraging them to do so. This effort is in conjunction with Secretary Walters’ efforts to reduce unnecessary placements in state secure facilities. Florida’s juvenile facilities currently house a large number of low- and medium-risk youth that could safely be placed in other more effective programs at a significant cost savings.

Event in St. Pete – Does Incarceration Reduce Crime?

If you live in the Tampa/St. Pete area, please join us for this upcoming event!

Prison Forum #1 – Does Incarceration Reduce Crime?

Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013
6-8 PM
St. Petersburg College
Seminole Campus Digitorium (UP 160)
9200 113th Street N, Seminole, FL

Researchers have struggled with the relationship between crime and a host of factors such as incarceration, poverty, and education. The panel will dive deeper into the questions of effectiveness, taxpayer costs, emerging public safety research and practices, and discuss the extent to which incarceration does reduce crime.

Forum panelists include:

  • Daniel D’Amico - William Barnett Professor of Free Enterprise Studies, Loyola University, New Orleans
  • Julie Ebenstein - Policy and Advocacy Counsel, Florida Branch of the American Civil Liberties Union
  • Anthony Holloway - Chief of Police, City of Clearwater
  • Marc Levin - Director, Center for Effective Justice, Texas Public Policy Foundation/Right on Crime

Moderated by: Dr. Allison DeFoor, former Sheriff of Monroe County, Prosecutor, Defender, Judge, and Episcopal Priest

Download the flyer here: FLYER_13-0041-01 ISPS Incareration

Engulfed by Environmental Crimes

The Texas Public Policy Foundation recently released a report on overcriminalization which I co-authored with my Right On Crime colleague, Marc Levin. The report, titled Engulfed by Environmental Crimes: Overcriminalizaton on the Gulf Coast, has received some attention across the internet after being the subject of features on and The Washington Examiner.

In the report, we argue:

“’Ground zero’ for state-level overcriminalization may well be the United States Gulf Coast.  Five U.S. states border the Gulf of Mexico—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—and between them, they have passed nearly 1,000 laws criminalizing activity along the coast. Criminal sanctions are of course appropriately applied to an individual who intentionally contaminates another person’s property. Too often, however, the activity that is governed by these myriad laws is non-blameworthy, ordinary business activity.”

We offer five recommendations to address the problem. First and foremost, we advise that states review their environmental regulations to determine whether criminal sanctions—in particular, prison—are appropriate. As former Texas state representative Jerry Madden says, ‘prisons are people we’re scared of, not people we’re mad at.’

Second, we advise states to strengthen the mens rea elements in their environmental criminal statutes. In environmental criminal prosecutions, offenders frequently lack the state of mind that would be necessary to convict for a traditional crime.

Third, we urge states to codify the rule of lenity and ensure that it is applied in environmental criminal cases. The rule of lenity is the canon of construction advising that vague criminal statutes be construed against the government and in favor of the defendant. It places a burden upon legislators to draft statutes as precisely as possible.

Fourth, we advise eliminating provisions that delegate to agencies the power to create new criminal offenses through rulemaking.

Finally, we encourage the adoption of safe harbor provisions. These provisions protect offenders from penalties if no harm has been done and the offender promptly acts to come into compliance.

The report is not limited to an abstract public policy discussion. In an appendix, the report documents several notorious incidents of overcriminalization throughout the Gulf states.

Florida Could Limit Prison Growth by Turning to its Drug Courts

The first drug court in the United States was formed in Miami-Dade County in 1989. Since then, Florida has increased that number to 106 drug courts, with at least one in every judicial circuit. In 2011, drug courts in Florida saw about 10,000 participants. The felony recidivism rate for drug court participants is 12 percent, compared to the control group’s rate of 40 percent. Florida continues to expand its problem-solving courts, including Veterans’ Courts and Mental Health Courts.


In many other states where drug courts have blossomed (like Texas), incarceration and recidivism rates have been in decline. Despite being a leader and innovator in problem-solving courts, however, Florida’s prison population has grown at a rate of 11.4 times between 1990 and 2009, while its population in general increased only 2.7 times.

Part of the problem may be that despite being a leader in problem-solving courts, Florida still has some of the strictest mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the county, including for drug offenses. In fact, a person could very well end up spending more time in prison for a drug offense than for manslaughter.

This backwards prioritizing is costing Florida taxpayers millions of dollars. Indeed, in 2010, the Florida Department of Corrections was “housing 5,135 inmates serving mandatory drug sentences,” said DOC spokeswoman Jo Ellen Rackleff. At a cost of $20,108 per year to keep an inmate in prison, mandatory drug sentences were costing Florida almost $103 million.

Florida already has many tools it could use in order to implement more effective, efficient, and affordable alternatives to incarceration, particularly for those addicted to drugs. Drug courts have worked, and continue to work in Florida. It is time for policy-makers in Florida to do their part in reforming the mandatory minimum-sentencing laws that are costing taxpayers millions of dollars and no longer serving their intended purpose.

Tampa Targets Juvenile First-Timers

Just six years ago, Hillsborough County and its county seat, Tampa, led the state in the number of juveniles arrested for nonviolent or minor offenses. County commissioners were dismayed by not only the costs this created for their court system, but also for the rap sheets now carried by thousands of juveniles–arrest records can sometimes create obstacles to college education or employment.

To ensure that the juvenile justice system was focused on delinquents in true need of intervention, in 2011 the county created a diversion program specifically for first-time juvenile offenders accused of one of eight low-level misdemeanors.

Eligible juveniles must not have any prior delinquency issues, take responsibility for their actions, and comply with the program’s requirements, which can involve restitution or formal apologies.

In the program’s first year of operation, 688 juveniles entered the program, and 626—or 91 percent—successfully completed the program, wiping their slate clean.

While further fine-tuning of the program is necessary, Hillsborough County has taken the first step towards halting the cycle of delinquency and targeting justice system resources to more serious juvenile offenders.

Sentencing Serious Juvenile Offenders

An interesting new report released on Michigan juvenile offenders reveals that most states do not use juvenile life-without-parole (“JLWOP”) sentencing. The few that do use it, however, use it often. Specifically, two-thirds of all “JLWOP” sentences have been issued by just five states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Louisiana, California), while in the past five years most states (39) only issued zero or one JLWOP sentence each year. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide two cases related to the constitutionality of this hotly debated issue.