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Official's view of boot camp ills riles lawmakers

Don't blame inadequate funding when you didn't ask for more funds, they tell the juvenile justice chief.

By ALEX LEARY
Published March 9, 2006


 

TALLAHASSEE - The state's top juvenile justice official was sharply criticized Wednesday for suggesting inadequate funding by the Legislature played a role in problems at Florida boot camps.

Anthony Schembri told the House Juvenile Justice Committee that boot camp employees are suffering from low morale in part because their jobs could vanish from poor funding.

"They just feel like they've been beaten up. . . . They've had it," he said.

His remarks, which came two months after a 14-year-old died a day after he was beaten at a Panama City boot camp, brought a swift rebuke from Rep. Mitch Needelman, R-Melbourne, who said the department is to blame for not seeking more money.

"We're not going to spin this around that it's a legislative issue," Needelman said, noting that a Martin County camp Schembri cited planned to close before Martin Lee Anderson was manhandled in the Bay County facility.

The Juvenile Justice Department, Needelman said, has failed repeatedly to request new funding for training and other needs Schembri identified. "If training is that important, then why don't we see additional requests for training?"

Sheriffs who operate the boot camps have long complained of inadequate funding, and some have lobbied the Legislature for more.

Last year, for example, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd secured $200,000 he said he needed to retain his boot camp. He still eliminated eight positions.

The department said it did not have specific budget figures Wednesday but that it spells out in contracts with the sheriffs how much funding will be provided.

The Martin County camp, considered one of the best in the state, is set to close this summer. "We've asked for additional funds each year, and each year we've had to compromise the program to live with the money we're getting," said Sheriff Robert Crowder.

The sheriff overseeing the Bay County camp said Anderson's death made the program too controversial and recently announced it would close within 90 days. But on Wednesday, the remaining offenders were moved to other locations, Schembri said.

Schembri, who met with Gov. Jeb Bush and sheriffs Wednesday to discuss policy changes stemming from Anderson's Jan. 6 death, said his budgets are written in consultation with the governor's office.

"It's a collaborative process," he said. "I work with my boss."

Boot camps are only part of the department's responsibility, Schembri said, and the governor also identifies other needs.

Bush spokesman Russell Schweiss said Wednesday "all agency secretaries work with their budget staff independently to identify and prioritize needs within their own agency."

Bush's supplemental budget released last week includes $1.5-million more for boot camps.

Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

[Last modified March 9, 2006, 09:50:28]


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