Central Florida’s Polk County has become the first jurisdiction in that state to make plans under a new state law to house juveniles who are awaiting trial in adult jail rather than in a state juvenile detention center, according to NewsChief.com, a Winter Haven, Fla., news site.
That change was made possible because Polk Sheriff Grady Judd pushed state Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to sponsor a bill in this year’s Florida Legislature that loosens the standards county jails must meet to house juveniles.
The state currently charges counties $237 per day to hold each juvenile in pretrial detention, and that rate is expected to rise later this year. Judd told NewsChief.com that the county expects to spend $70-$90 per day per juvenile detainee. He predicts the switch will save the county around $1.5 million.
Previously, juveniles in pretrial detention fell under state jurisdiction, but the new law would allow counties to retain custody from start to finish. Under the new legislation, counties no longer have to meet state Department of Juvenile Justice standards, but must adhere to yet-to-be written guidelines set forth by the state’s Model Jail Standards Committee.
County jails that opt to handle juvenile detainees still will have to meet a federal requirement that the juveniles not come into contact with adult detainees.
Currently, Polk County — which includes the small cities of Lakeland and Lake Wales, and has a population of more than 600,000 — houses 40 juveniles who face adult charges in its jail, while 50-60 juveniles who don’t face adult charges are housed in the state regional pretrial detention center.
A challenge for the county will be how to keep juveniles of different ages, genders and offender statuses separate from each other in the jail, so that, for example the youngest, mildest alleged offenders don’t face threats from the older, bigger and more violent detainees.