Proposed Cuts May Hurt Efforts to Help At-Risk Kids Juvenile Justice Would Kill Crime Prevention Program; Legislature Still Must Approve Suggested Budget Changes

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Proposed budget cuts within Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice could endanger state programs targeting the prevention of juvenile delinquency.

The department submitted a budget proposal that would eliminate the entire $35 million budget for Children in Need of Services/Family in Need of Services programs, an official said. The cut would have to be approved by the Legislature, which this year negated a proposed $20 million reduction.

The department is not singling out its prevention programs, spokeswoman Diane Hirth said, nor is it abandoning them. However, representatives of non-profit organizations that implement the programs said the proposed cuts are disproportionately targeting them. The state's philosophy, they said, is to emphasize the punishment of juvenile delinquency rather than its prevention. Hirth said punishment must be a high priority because the public should be protected from juvenile offenders.

The proposal affects about 25,000 children annually who have not committed an offense but are considered at risk, said Dee Richter, executive director of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services.

The cut would close at least a portion of Florida's 36 shelters and counseling facilities and probably shut down the state's family hot line, which answers calls 24 hours a day, Richter said. Jim Clark, president and chief executive officer of daniel, a non-profit agency in Jacksonville that provides housing and counseling services for children, said it would "drastically cut" the efforts at daniel. The group operates with a $10 million annual budget and receives $2 million in state money specifically for prevention programs.

Clark disagreed with the proposed cuts.

"The state is saying that unless a child commits a crime in their system, he's not their client," he said. "That's not smart."

Tom Patania, president of Jacksonville's Youth Crisis Center, said the proposed cuts would dramatically reduce YCC's role in the community. Patania said YCC has a $3.2 million annual budget and $2.5 million comes from the state.

"There's no way to make up the difference," Patania said. "It would reduce [YCC] to a very grass-roots group. We started in 1934 as Florida's only runaway center, and we would be right back there."

The Juvenile Justice Department's initial budget request -- submitted Sept. 15 -- proposed a $6.3 million cut to CINS/FINS. That proposal complied with Gov. Jeb Bush's mandate that all state agencies reduce their operating costs from the current fiscal year by 5 percent. The current budget is $560 million.

The department then submitted a budget proposal Oct. 13 that called for a total $35 million cut to CINS/FINS after the governor issued a budget exercise that called for the department to trim 5 percent of its total budget request for next year, the department representative said.

Prevention programs are not the only ones facing cuts, Hirth said. The department had initially planned to add 1,800 beds to the 10,000 it already uses in treatment programs -- boot camps, halfway houses, youth development centers and other facilities -- but can add only 900 this year. …