By Dan McCarthy
For Florida TaxWatch
We hear it said frequently: good news doesn’t sell.
Daily headlines are monopolized by crimes and scandals. The latest shocking headline comes from Tampa, where a retired police officer shot an adult to death for texting at a local movie theater. This senseless act will now be examined from every angle and possibly result in a televised murder trial, a melodrama that is all too familiar in Florida.
But it’s not all bad news coming from the criminal justice system. Here’s a crime story you probably didn’t see last week, but which has far greater meaning for society than an isolated violent incident: Juvenile Arrests in Florida Drop to 30-Year Low.
That’s right. Our youth are more law-abiding now than they have been in the last 30 years. This is welcomed news. All citizens and taxpayers should rejoice! A drop in juvenile arrests means our communities experience less crime and less costly juvenile detention.
Though many factors contribute to this unprecedented decrease in juvenile arrests, one we can certainly point to is the inspired leadership provided by the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Secretary Wansley Walters instituted a smart justice plan that focuses on practices that prevent incarceration and divert youth away from the criminal justice system.
Walters pushed for civil citations instead of arrests, and wants to hold juveniles accountable outside the criminal justice system when they commit nonviolent acts and admit their offense. This strategy avoids the damage of incarceration and recidivism.
The number of juveniles placed in detention facilities in Florida has been reduced 50 percent. Thus, the Department of Juvenile Justice has not only saved taxpayers millions in future prison costs, but also has reduced its budget. Imagine that — a public agency reducing taxpayer expenditures because of a successful program! Perhaps this example can inspire the Florida Department of Corrections to reconsider its request for more money to reopen nine prison facilities even as the crime rate in the state drops.
The plan instituted by Walters and DJJ has a great name: “Roadmap to Success.” This smart mission statement lays out policies designed to reduce juvenile delinquency, re-direct youth away from the juvenile justice system, provide appropriate, less-restrictive sanctions, reserve serious sanctions for those deemed the highest risk to public safety, and focus resources and efforts on rehabilitation.
These policies support our youth, but do not excuse violent crime committed by teenagers. Under the Roadmap, the state attorney is always given discretion to file adult charges against a juvenile who commits a heinous act.
The drop in juvenile crime is significant. It tells us that parents are doing a better job supervising their children, and that teachers, law enforcement, church groups and youth organizations are also making a positive impact. Florida juvenile justice policies teamed with the efforts of good citizens are making Florida a better, safer place for children and families.
Florida TaxWatch conducts evidence-based research to assess the success and cost to taxpayers of government programs and policies. As watchdogs, we are here to bark and growl at government waste and misuse of resources, but also to highlight the accomplishments of government and applaud state leaders when they get it right.
In this instance we commend the Department of Juvenile Justice and others involved in teaching and mentoring young people. The drop in juvenile crime will save tax dollars and help our youth become productive and law abiding citizens. This good news should sell and reverberate, and is cause for great hope.
McCarthy is director of the Florida TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice. Florida TaxWatch is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog.