Young offenders may get more counseling, other help
By SARAH SCHWEITZER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001
TAMPA -- With nearly half of delinquent juveniles suffering from substance addiction or mental illness, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has requested a $95-million increase in its annual budget to provide counseling and other services.
"It is worth the cost in terms of the crimes we avoid and the human worth that we salvage from these kids," Bill Bankhead, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice. He announced the budget request Thursday at the Hillsborough Community College campus in Ybor City.
The increased funding would provide 1,801 additional beds in juvenile residential facilities where mental health and substance abuse treatment would be available. Of those, about 850 would be in west Central Florida.
Residential settings range from places such as boot camps to high-security detention centers.
Now, state residential centers have 6,631 beds, with mental health, substance abuse and/or sex offender treatment offered for 1,045 of those.
Of the approximately 12,000 juveniles who were committed to juvenile justice facilities last year, about 6,000 suffered from mental health problems, Bankhead said.
Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to announce next week whether he will include the increased funding proposal in his budget.
The Department of Juvenile Justice this year had a $737.5-million budget, Bankhead said.
He said that for years, the goal of providing treatment for juveniles with mental health problemswas not a top priority because of the more pressing need for new facilities.
"In the '90s, juvenile crime increased, so the concern was about finding places for kids and less concern about treating kids," Bankhead said. "We are now at a point where we realize there have to be consequences, but we also have to educate them and try to address the underlying causes so we get these kids back on the right track."
Also Thursday, Bankhead highlighted the department's new initiative for helping the system's offenders who are most likely to become serious delinquents.
The targeted population is juveniles who have their first arrest before age 16 and who have at least three of these traits: poor school performance, mental health or substance abuse problems, a lack of family stability or gang affiliation.
The state has contracted with private providers to keep watch over these juveniles while they remain in their homes. Caseworkers will make three home visits each week, contact the juvenile's school and oversee family therapy weekly. The oversight will continue for five to seven months, longer than other programs, which often last 90 days.
In Hillsborough County, Bay Area Youth Services has been awarded the contract, and so far it has a caseload of 55 youths. When the program is fully up and running, the private contractor will carry a caseload of 135 juveniles.
William Bowman, the executive director/president, said the program differs from others because case loads will be kept low. The contract specifies that each caseworker may handle only 20 juveniles at a time.
The cost of the program statewide is $5.2-million, Bankhead said.
"What we are trying to do is focus our resources on the most likely kids to become recidivists," Bankhead said.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks