10/14/2011

Dueling Press Conferences ACLU Says Juveniles Should Not Share Facilities With Adult Inmates

Judd says critics have never talked with him or visited the facility

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union hold a press conference Thursday morning in Bartow.
Buy Photo ERNST PETERS | THE LEDGER
Published: Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 2:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 3:04 p.m.
BARTOW | Dueling press conferences Thursday pitted the Polk County Sheriff's Office against the American Civil Liberties Union over the decision by Polk officials to house juvenile detainees in a wing of the county jail.
ACLU policy and advocacy counsel Julie Ebenstein warned of Sheriff Grady Judd's new measure, saying it flew in the face of years of research, that pre-adjudicated juveniles were better off in state custody or with their parents. She didn't provide specifics about Polk's program.
"We want to make clear to him and to other sheriffs that kids are not little adults," she said. "Most states in the nation are moving away from this sort of thing."
A new state law signed earlier this year opened the door for counties meeting certain requirements to take over the housing of juveniles awaiting court dates, a role once handled solely by the state Department of Juvenile Justice.
Until October, young defendants awaited court at the Polk Regional Juvenile Detention Center. They are now housed in their own wing of the Central County Jail.
Ebenstein, standing next to supporters from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and former Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary, Frank Peterman Jr., claimed children would suffer.
Judd, however, fired back at the ACLU, accusing them of "slinging mud" without attempting to learn first-hand about the program.
"Neither the ACLU or a group of the NAACP has ever come to the building to tour it with us," Judd said. "The ACLU would like you to think we have never housed juveniles before."
As Judd spoke, he gestured to several posters, each color-coated and sprinkled with exclamation points to illustrate his department's qualifications.
For months the sheriff has touted the initiative as a cost-cutting measure that supplied better services to detained youths. He pushed his point further Thursday with claims that his staff undergoes more training than Juvenile Justice employees.
"We do it better and we do it less expensive," he said. "We are so superior in every way."
The sheriff estimated the program would save the county nearly $2 million.
Ebenstein said she had not seen first-hand the Polk County program, but said the ACLU had an issue with the general policy and trend. Peterman backed her in his statement.
"We need to make sure that kids are not housed with adults," the former secretary said. "I don't think it's in the best interest of the people of the state of Florida."
As for proffering an alternative way to save money, ACLU representatives could not offer any specifics — only the belief that the money spent now worked as an investment in the state's children. Ebenstein said she's referred to a 2011 report by the Campaign for Youth Justice.
According to the report, a survey of adult facilities found that 40 percent of jails provided no educational services at all, and only 11 percent offered special education services.
"(Authorities) can house youth in segregated settings in which isolation can cause or exacerbate mental health problems," the report reads.
At his press conference, Judd said education and medical professionals are on staff.
[ Chase Purdy can be reached at chase.purdy@theledger.com or 863-802-7516. Follow him on Twitter: @chasepurdy. ]

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