Tag Archive for Florida

Broward County Agencies Agree to Reform School Punishments

StateLibQld 1 113036 Cartoon of students recei...

StateLibQld 1 113036 Cartoon of students receiving the cane, 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A groundbreaking agreement was reached this week in South Florida to end the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. In a remarkable show of cooperation involving 10 county agencies and community organizations, the Broward County Collaborative Agreement of School Discipline was signed on Tuesday.

The new policy at the heart of the agreement creates a procedure for district officials and school resource officers to follow when a student misbehaves. For non-violent misdemeanors such as harassment, trespassing, incidents related to alcohol, possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana or drug paraphernalia, administrators will now try to resolve the situation without an arrest. Several alternatives such as participation in a week-long counseling program will be used to deal with such behavior.

The agreement places the responsibility on principals to determine the appropriate disciplinary action for student misbehavior, rather than delegating it to school resource officers. The procedure makes police involvement a last resort.

Marsha Ellison, chairwoman, Fort Lauderdale/Broward Branch of the NAACP and chairwoman of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board said:

Silly behavior is not criminal behavior, and we have led an effort to make sure the administrators take control of the schools, rather than law enforcement.

Ellison forged a coalition among several agencies to work towards a change in the “zero-tolerance” policy. They include the School Board of Broward County, the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the NAACP and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.

In the late 1990s, school districts across the country began to bypass other forms of discipline, such as counseling and detention, and opted for more extreme punishment alternatives, such as suspension, expulsion and law enforcement involvement. As a result, hundreds of thousands of students were removed from schools or arrested for minor infractions such as tardiness or throwing candy in class.

Broward County sheriff Scott Israel, who earlier this year unilaterally directed his deputies to invoke a little used state law allowing for “Civil Citation” as a means of reducing the number of juvenile arrests, said: “We’ve done away with the phrase ‘zero-tolerance.’ Kids will now get second, third and fourth chances. Students will not become collateral damage of the way things used to be.”

The agreement signed Tuesday will have a significant impact on black and other minority students, who have been disproportionately affected by the “zero-tolerance” policy, resulting in mass incarceration and creating a vicious cycle for students and their families. This has come to be known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

Broward County Schools, which is the nation’s sixth largest school district, is now a leader in the discipline reform movement. About 100,000 of Broward’s 260,000 students are black, but they have been suspended at more than twice the rate of white students. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Broward Schools imposed in-school suspensions on 11,810 black students in 2009, or about 12% of the black student population. Black students were given 5,135 out-of-school suspensions. In 2010 and 2011, there were more than 1,000 school-related arrests—and nearly three-quarters of them were for non-violent misdemeanors.

Kim Keenan, NAACP general counsel, said:

Broward County has set an example we can use as a template that we can take across the country. Without an agreement like this today, what we have is a world that, instead of focusing on educating our students, we are focused on shipping them off to juvenile detention centers. That’s not what we send kids to school for. We are not training them to be criminals; we are training them to be productive citizens in Florida.

As part of the agreement, Broward schools will continue to establish and implement guidelines for the handling of school-based student misbehavior. The district reported that it has already seen positive results, including a decrease in suspensions by 66.2%, compared to the same time period in 2012. Expulsion is down by 51.4% and school-related arrests have fallen by 40.7%.

“We are going to take this model and run with it,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP Florida State Conference and also the Miami-Dade branch. “The NAACP can take this model in all of our branches and make it their own. We now have the foundation to save a generation of youth of color from the criminal justice system. This would not be possible without the leadership of our Fort Lauderdale/ Broward Branch.”

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Faces of Justice: An Interview with Judge Irene Sullivan

JudgeSullivanJudge Irene Sullivan is a well known figure in Florida and nationally when it comes to the subject of juvenile justice. A retired judge she is currently an adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law and has been the juvenile track leader for circuit judge’s education.

For more information about Judge Sullivan please see her full bio at the end of this interview. The number of task forces she is on is truly stunning! But now, on with the interview!

HE: What drew you to working with juvenile justice in the beginning? Was it the focus of your work as a trial lawyer or was it something that began after you attained the judiciary?

IS: I’d never done any juvenile or criminal work as a trial lawyer.  When elected to the bench in 1998, I was assigned to family law, i.e. divorces, domestic violence, etc. After three years, I was asked to move to our newly-created Unified Family Court, where I would serve as a juvenile judge handling both dependency (child abuse, abandonment, neglect) cases and delinquency, as well as related family law matters of the parents or guardians of the kids who appeared before us. It was an experimental court and I jumped at the opportunity to serve in a “one family, one judge” model, which I did for nine years. I enjoyed the kids the most, even the delinquent ones!

HE: Would you be kind enough to tell us a bit about your visit to Umatilla Academy for Girls and how it influenced your stance and actions since then?

IS: Umatilla Academy for Girls was a residential program for high risk girls located in a former children’s hospital in a small central Florida town. Not long after becoming a juvenile judge, I visited the program as three of the girls from our circuit had been sentenced there. I actually wept when I saw the atrocious conditions of the place: dirty walls, dirty sacks for clothing, terrible food, no exercise, girls running wild, screaming inside, and no doors on the toilets or curtains on the showers, despite the presence of male guards. It was awful, and after my findings were confirmed, it was shut down. That experience taught me that kids deserve kind and nurturing treatment everywhere, even when committed, and that people will listen to make that happen.

HE: One hundred years ago the first juvenile courts were created in Chicago, Illinois. Today we find a system in shambles and the effectiveness that was once an example for the rest of the world seems long lost. What factors do you believe brought us from there to here?

IS: Hopefully, we’re slowly returning to more of the old Chicago court juvenile model. For the last 25 years, kids have been treated like adults; we’ve lost focus on prevention, diversion and rehabilitation; legislators run on “tough on crime” platforms that include kids, and public schools have turned into places where a kid first gets arrested. It’s beginning to turn around, especially in states like Florida under the enlightened and inspired leadership of Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters.

HE: Let’s talk a bit about Evanston High School. Last May you wrote a column for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange in which you levied high praise on their approach and it’s effectiveness. Now that you’ve had half a year to process the experience would you share a bit about it with our readers?

IS: At Evanston High School just north of Chicago, I became part of a “peace circle” of students, teachers and counselors who shared their deepest fears and desires, and then promoted restorative justice as a better way to deal with school-based infractions.  I learned that a “peer jury” could deliver more appropriate sanctions than the court system, for example, having the disruptive student not only apologize to the teacher but show up early for a month to help her organize her classroom, and not have a criminal record. It’s a wonderful program and should be replicated nationwide.

HE: What would you point out as exemplary programs for dealing with juvenile offenders both in Florida and nation- wide? To what do you attribute their success?

IS: Florida is know for its progressive, humane and nurturing girls programming, in and out of residential care, due to the efforts of Dr. Lawanda Ravoira, with the National Center for Girls headquartered in Jacksonville, and Pace Center for Girls, which has 17 alternative schools throughout the state where counseling, education, therapy and mentoring is delivered in a very therapeutic way to at risk girls who have histories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Other evidence-based programs throughout the country, such as those run by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, have revolutionized detention care and juvenile drug treatment. As more dollars are put into prevention and diversion, we are starting to see juvenile jails being closed or consolidated.

HE: What do you espouse as the best means of combating recidivism among juvenile offenders?

IS: Recidivism is a big problem in the re-entry of teenage boys from residential programs back into the community. The best way to reduce it is through a re-entry program designed by Parenting with Love and Limits (PLL),created by Dr. Scott Sells, that brings the family and family counseling into the residential program from the time the juvenile is first committed, and follows the juvenile and family after re-entry into the community, to provide aftercare and prevent recidivism. The PLL program not only works to reduce recidivism, it shortens the length of residential stay as it is based on an “earned release” philosophy.  You can’t fix the kid until you fix the family, and that’s what PLL does.

HE: Much like our own Susan Lankford, you also utilize a lot of personal narrative in your book, Raised By The Courts. Did you collect all those stories yourself or were you assisted by other interviewers? How did those interviews change your own perspective on the issue?

IS: The stories in my book, Raised by the Courts: One Judge’s Insight into Juvenile Justice, are all true stories of the kids who appeared before me. Only the names have been changed. I began collecting these stories almost from “day one” on the juvenile bench, when I realized how complicated the lives of these kids were, how much chaos and violence they were exposed to daily, not only on the street but in the home.

HE: What would you say are the three most important things you have learned from your years dealing with these issues from the bench?

IS: The three most important things I learned, out of many, are that kids are not born bad; all kids need love, nurturing and, most important, hope, in their lives, and that a single caring adult can make a big difference in the life of the most hardened child.

HE: Every day it seems like technology progresses by leaps and bounds. What online tools do you think could improve our engagement with at risk youth, or allow us to serve them in a more efficient and cost effective fashion?

IS: I’m not the most computer literate person, that’s for sure, but I think that the internet, laptops, appropriate use of social media, can bring to many at risk kids the sense of connection and hope for the future that is lacking in traditional education and upbringing. I’m optimistic about it, despite the dangers of “sexting,” etc.

HE: Internet rumors are floating around about a new book as a follow up to Raised By The Courts. Is there any substance to them, and if so is there a timeline for publication yet?

IS: Yes, if I can discipline myself to finish it, I have a biography of one of the most abused and mistreated young men in my book in the works, as well as a fictional series based on juvenile court. Sort of like:  Law and Order in Juvenile Court!!!  Thanks for asking.

HE: Thank you for joining us Judge Sullivan, keep up the good work!

About Irene Sullivan: Judge Sullivan served as a juvenile and family court judge from 1999-2011 in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area of Florida. Prior to that, she was a general partner at Harris, Barrett, Mann & Dew, L.L.P. in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she had a civil trial practice for 22 years and became an A-V rated trial lawyer.

She obtained a Juris Doctorate degree from Stetson University College of Law, cum laude, and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, with honors, from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, in Evanston, Ill.

Judge Sullivan received the following awards:  The Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, Inc. Outstanding Community Partner Award; Clearwater and St. Petersburg Bar Associations’ Annual Judicial Appreciation Award; Stetson University College of Law Ben C. Willard Distinguished Alumni Award; Guardian ad Litem Community Advocate Award; Florida Association of School Social Workers’ Diamond Award; Salvation Army’s Children’s Justice Award; Pinellas Enrichment Through Mental Health Services (PEMHS) P.A.C.E. Award; Family Resource’s Family Advocate Award; Community Action Stops Abuse (CASA) Domestic Violence Champion Sponsor Award.

She has presented at many conferences and seminars involving juvenile crime, the importance of prevention and diversion, truancy, domestic violence and mental health issues for juveniles. In February, 2011, she was a keynote speaker at the Adolescent Conference sponsored by the Florida Juvenile Justice Association and the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association, where every registrant received a copy of her book, Raised by the Courts: One Judge’s Insight into Juvenile Justice, released by Kaplan Publishing Co. in November, 2010.

She currently sits on the following boards or task forces: The American Bar Association’s Commission on Youth At Risk; The Ounce of Prevention of Florida, Inc., PACE for girls, state and local; The Pinellas Community Foundation, The InterCultural Advocacy Institute; Florida Disproportionate Minority Contact Task Force; Blueprint Commission to Reform Juvenile Justice, and the Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network at Barry University Law School, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. She’s an adjunct professor at Stetson University College of Law and has been the juvenile track leader for circuit judge’s education.

The Polk County Incarceration Scandal

Despite the advances being made in nearby Texas, Florida finds itself at the middle of a controversy about it’s treatment of youth offenders. Let’s start withthis video report from Fox News:

Polk jail at center of debate over jailing juveniles : MyFoxTAMPABAY.com

Chase Purdy, a writer for The Ledger, called it “duelling press conferences.” I think that’s apt. Sheriff Judd’s rather dismissive comment about “y’all silly people,” when addressing his opponents is annoyingly condescending, although his point seems on the surface to be a good one. How can the ACLU complain without having visited the facility in question?

That first impression lacks both context and nuance. Yes, it may well be much more cost effective than their prior approach, but can it be as cost effective as the Texas way? There is still a huge sum of public money needed to incarcerate someone. Far less funding is required to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society. The numbers demonstrably prove that, as does the increasing number of states moving away from a “lock ‘em up” mentality about juveniles.

One thing that needs clarification is the language used. To clarify the difference jails are basically short term holding tanks and are operated by the county. Prisons on the other hand are run by the state and are geared toward long term incarceration.

As a result jails are geared for a more transitory population by nature. Anyone who has ever had a court date knows that it can sometimes be months, occasionally even years, before the day in court comes around. That’s a long time, doubly so for children. This is especially true when the facility in question is designed for adults, an age segment with wildly different needs.

We will be keeping an eye on Polk County as this develops.

Parking Meters for the Homeless?

Parking meterOrlando, Florida, is preparing to experiment with a new way of raising funds to help the homeless. Taking a novel stance, the city is getting ready to install a number of parking meters downtown, the funds from which are to be dedicated to the issues of the homeless.

Mark Schleub, a writer for The Orlando Sentinel, notes that the city has a troubled past when it comes to dealing with the population of its streets:

Orlando has drawn criticism for its treatment of the homeless in the past, including its defense of an ordinance that restricts charities’ ability to feed people in public parks. The city has also outlawed panhandling downtown after dark. During the day, panhandling is allowed only in 27 specific spots in blue boxes painted on the sidewalk.

It is near these blue boxes that most of the new “homeless meters,” as people are calling them, are to be installed. Mark Jenkins, a reporter for News 13, gives us some specifics on where the meters will be placed, and where the funds are supposed to be deployed:

Soon, you’ll find the donation meters around Lake Eola Park, the Amway Center, and along Orange Avenue, Church Street and other pedestrian-heavy areas.

The city said it plans to give the money from the meters to the Central Florida Regional Commission on Homelessness.

No concrete plan was drawn up at Monday’s meeting on when exactly the donation meters would be operational.

It is our hope that the final disposition of these funds will be diverted to remediation programs. For one thing, that would be the most cost-effective way of combating the ongoing rise in the numbers of the homeless, and, for another, it simply makes good social sense. As more and more families find themselves out on the streets, be it because of loss of work, being caught in the mortgage meltdown, or for some other reason, we need to extend a hand. These are all human beings, with their own potential to be productive members of society, but, to do so, a hand up is in order.

Source: “New parking meters collect homeless donations – Coming soon to Orlando,” News 13, 10/19/10
Source: “Orlando OKs ‘homeless meters,’ an alternative to giving change to panhandlers,” The Orlando Sentinel, 10/19/10
Image by Katerha, used under its Creative Commons license.
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U.S. Senate Examines Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

MurderThe homeless are particularly vulnerable to violence and crime. Exposed on the street without shelter, they make appealing targets for the distorted personalities that prey on others. Recently, attacks on the homeless have been on the rise, and it’s finally drawing the attention of those in power.

David Hunt, a writer for Jacksonville.com, reports that, as of last Friday, attacks on the homeless in Florida are now considered a hate crime:

A law passed by this year by the Florida Legislature adds ‘homelessness’ to a list of protected classes in the state’s hate-crimes enhancement statutes, which already include traits such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Under the law, those who would be facing a year of jail time for battery could face as much as five years if the target of the attack is a homeless person.

Thankfully, this issue is attracting government’s attention not only in Florida. The U.S. Senate held a hearing last Wednesday, examining violent attacks against the homeless. The statistics are truly disturbing, and the trend of violence is increasing at an alarming rate. Just take a look at this testimony reported by Alex Ogle for AFP:

In many cases of the 117 ‘hate attacks’ against those living on the streets or in shelters in 2009, including the 43 murders, violent acts against the homeless ‘was almost a sport’ for attackers who see their victims as ‘unhuman,’ Florida police officer Richard Wierzbicki testified at the hearing.

Simone Manning-Moon, whose older brother Norris Gaynor was beaten to death by three teenagers with baseball bats and a rake handle, told the hearing that he was targeted ‘because he was homeless.’

The Norris Gaynor beating was caught on tape by the surveillance cameras and has led to the conviction of the boys involved. Here is a new report that includes the footage, below:

Now think about the 43 murders cited by Officer Wierzbicki. It makes for a grim picture indeed.

Ogle also reports another unsettling piece of testimony from Capitol Hill:

Homeless people have become a ‘socially acceptable target of aggression,’ noted Brian Levin, advisor to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and director of the California-based Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Whether classifying these attacks as hate crimes will make an effective change remains to be seen, but something needs to be done to stem the tide of violence. These are people’s daughters, brothers, mothers, and children that are living on the street, human beings already undergoing harsh trials that do not need to be exacerbated by the threat of injury or death.

Source: “US Senate urged to act on rising attacks on homeless,” AFP via Google News, 09/20/10
Source: “Hate crimes will include attacks on homeless,” Jacksonville.com, 09/29/10
Image by izarbeltza, used under its Creative Commons license.

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