Despite challenges, Florida’s juvenile justice system continues to improve
By Shay Bilchik
November 10, 2017
Recent Herald articles about the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) raise significant concerns about the agency’s operation. Unfortunately, they paint an incomplete picture.
Six years ago, DJJ embarked on an effort to strategically transform the way it serves at-risk and delinquent youth. This has been a daunting task filled with challenges, but led by a committed group of policymakers and practitioners, the agency has demonstrated great successes along the way.
DJJ’s path has not been perfect, but what I know from firsthand contact with that system is that its efforts have been earnest and significant. And while there have been horrible incidents of misconduct by staff, each has been met with an appropriate response by DJJ to address the behavior and ensure that it does not recur. At the same time, DJJ’s leadership has not wavered in its commitment to improve the overall system and how it serves youth, including the prevention of delinquent behavior.
Indeed, now is the time for Florida’s leadership to build on DJJ’s successes and further improve the system by investing in high quality staff, as well as smaller residential placements that are closer to where youth live and can successfully transition back into their communities.
DJJ is setting the standard for system reform, including its work around screening and assessment, the use of structured decision-making tools, and data analysis which is positively influencing practice across the country. Indeed, tens of thousands of youth are being well served by the Department of each year.
Is DJJ perfect in its work? No, but it is far better than the Herald’s reporting reflects.
SHAY BILCHIK IS RESEARCH PROFESSOR/CENTER DIRECTOR AT THE CENTER FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM AT GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY’S MCCOURT SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY. HE SERVED FORMERLY AS AN ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY IN MIAMI-DADE COUNTY; AND ADMINISTRATOR OF THE OFFICE OF JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DELINQUENCY PREVENTION IN THE U. S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE.