Florence Snyder: Rick Scott’s juvenile justice budget, a wet bandage for Stage 4 cancer

Miami Herald fight club

Eleven days ago, Gov. Rick Scott dropped a news release proposing a 10 percent pay raise for juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers.

Today, the Miami Herald dropped its comprehensive carpet bomb on Scott’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

Maybe it’s a coincidence.

The Herald’s book-length investigative series is a stomach-churning compilation of examples of Florida’s children being abused and exploited in a state system that might not have time to make proper hiring decisions, but can always find time for a cover-up.

The Herald’s project has been in the making for two years with the support of a reporting grant from the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School. The project-in-progress was no secret to Scott and his minions.

Even Herald readers got a preview of coming attractions with last February’s story about the plight of Keishan Ross, a Broward County teenager with an IQ that tops out at 61, on a good day.

Keishan was having a bad day when Scott’s DJJ Secretary, Christy Daly, had the bad fortune to be escorting the Herald’s investigations team on a tour of the Broward Detention Center. Keishan’s “deep, primal, piercing, unrelenting screams” revealed the facility as a torture chamber to a kid who lacked the capacity to understand why he was there.

Herald photographer Emily Michot‘s picture of Daly’s stricken face is worth a thousand words. To her credit, Daly didn’t try to spin what the Herald saw, heard and reported.

That was then.

Today, Daly’s singin’ a tune familiar to anyone who’s ever danced The Government Shuffle. “We have policies in place of what your relationship should be like with these children. Not everyone follows these policies and procedures. But the best we can do is have them in place,” said Daly.

States which favor professional competence over political connections do not put children into the custody of sadists, sex offenders and jailers who are able to tune out, but not able to help kids like Keishan. Effective programs do exist, but after six-and-a-half years of “aggressive steps to reform Florida’s juvenile justice system,” Scott’s #BigIdea is a 10 percent raise for people whose base salaries range from $8.50 per hour to $25,000 per year.

Scott’s news release notes that more than 2,000 juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers “have the important responsibility of working with youth in DJJ care, but they also have the unique opportunity to help change lives and redirect our youth to a successful path.”

“I look forward to working with the Legislature during the upcoming session to pass this 10 percent pay raise, which will ensure DJJ can hire highly qualified and dedicated detention and probation officers to help our youth and keep our communities safe for years to come.”

To be fair, Scott did not invent Florida’s practice of throwing stale crusts of bread at starving populations and calling it reform, and the Legislature has, for decades, been a willing partner in Florida’s penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to juvenile justice.

The Herald’s reporting is harrowing, unassailable proof that Scott’s prescription for DJJ is little more than a waterlogged bandage on a Stage 4 tumor.

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.


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