DJJ's Peterman emphasizes Reinvestment Act at conference

07/25/08 Seán Kinane
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Yesterday, WMNF reported on the first day of a conference in Tampa which brought together state and local officials to discuss ways to divert people with addictions and mental illnesses from being incarcerated in the criminal justice system. Today the conference concluded with an emphasis on helping juveniles.

Friday’s Keynote Speaker was the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ, Frank Peterman, Jr., who was appointed as Secretary by Governor Charlie Crist in February.

“Sixty-five percent of juveniles in DJJ programs have mental health diagnoses or substance abuse issues. This number is staggering but it emphasizes the overwhelming need for the Reinvestment Act. In particular, emerging information about the seriousness of issues facing our girls programs and our girls in general illustrates the dire need for intervention and treatment with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety.”

The Criminal Justice, Mental Health, & Substance Abuse Reinvestment Act was passed in 2007 by the Florida Legislature and provides matching funds of up to one million dollars to counties. Peterman said that Reinvestment Grant funding is important because “preventing and educating youth is more effective in stopping the cycle of delinquency before it begins.”

“The grants provided through the Reinvestment Act support programs that help children with mental health and substance abuse issues. These issues are often the root causes for delinquency. So in effect this act addresses the disease instead of the symptoms of delinquency and criminal behavior, if you will. In the past, juvenile justice models have focused on putting kids behind bars, a more punitive way of dealing with child crime. This has been found to merely worsen the problems and reinforce the cycle of crime.”

Peterman, a former state Representative and St. Petersburg City Council member, told WMNF that groups need to work together to be more effective.

“Well, it’s very important because we need to bring community stakeholders together at county levels and at other levels to make sure we’re putting the best programs, collaborative programs, together for our children throughout this state. Really, the more we bring various organizations together in partnership one another and making sure we’re using all of our resources from each organization. The more that we do that, the stronger of a network we’ll have throughout the state. And whenever that happens, children should benefit from those relationships.”

Michele Saunders is the Executive Director of Florida Partners in Crisis and said that the Legislature needs to increase Reinvestment Grant funding or the program will “die on the vine.”

“This was funded at four million years ago two years ago, if you will, in [2007]. Three million was set aside for implementation, one million for planning. We worked real hard last year to at least not let the three million be cut. In a tough budget year with the cuts, we worked hard and we tried to get that one million back because that was non-recurring and we weren’t successful, but we at least held harmless the Reinvestment Act from any budget cuts. And some other areas we don’t know did get cut.”

The Reinvestment Act, Saunders said, not only helps keep at-risk people out of prison, but also saves valuable resources.

“The idea that if we can slow the growth or change the growth of the system from the deep end, the more costly, we can use those monies to reinvest. That’s what your work’s designed to do – is to be able to change your system of care so that we are treating and serving people at the front end and getting those monies reinvested and working with the Legislature to reinvest it. Clearly we need investments but we then need to be able to reinvest that.”

Amanda Ghaffari is the Public Safety Legislative Advocate for the Florida Association of Counties, a group that lobbies the legislature on behalf of counties. Ghaffari hopes that Florida can benefit from the Second Chance Act, which was signed by President Bush in April and is intended to prevent people from going back to jail.

“When we’re looking at short funds at the state budget and if there’s an opportunity in Florida’s best position to draw down these federal funds. Not to mention from a political read of it, we are a swing state. We’re probably never going to be receiving more political attention in D.C. than right now. So let’s take advantage of that.”

The organizers of the conference on the Criminal Justice, Mental Health, & Substance Abuse Reinvestment Act said they hope to make it an annual event.

Florida Association of Counties

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice

Florida Partners in Crisis

Florida Substance Abuse and Mental Health Corporation

Previous WMNF coverage of Reinvestment Act conference

Previous WMNF coverage of Supreme Court report

Previous WMNF coverage of Mental Health Courts

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