James Madison Institute says juvenile incarceration cost to top $175M over next decade
As legislation on direct file of juveniles is heard in a Florida Senate committee today, The James Madison Institute has released a new report states that maintaining the status quo on the process of direct filing juveniles in Florida could cost the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) $175 million over the next 10 years as more children enter its facilities.
Since 2009, more than 12,000 children have been tried as adults in Florida over the last five years – 98 percent of these children are direct filed in adult court by prosecutors with no hearing, due process, oversight or input from a judge. Florida currently has the highest number of adult transfers reported of any state in the nation.
The economic analysis revealed that although the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) would incur new costs as juveniles previously filed into the adult court system would now be served in the juvenile system, over a 10-year period the state budget would see a $12.6 million increase, presenting a reinvestment opportunity for the juvenile system to increase rehabilitative services.
The study used recent data from DJJ and other publically available data to compare how children who were transferred to adult court in FY2015 would have been disposed had they remained in the juvenile justice system. The policy brief “No Place for A Child: Direct File of Juveniles Comes at a High Cost; Time to Fix Statues,” was written by researchers at the Project on Accountable Justice (PAJ) at Florida State University and The James Madison Institute (JMI).
“Although incarceration in juveniles facilities is more expensive on a per diem basis as rehabilitative and educational programming provided in the juvenile system has a cost, the use of the juvenile justice system saves money in the long run,” said Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at The James Madison Institute. “This is not only because it is more effective at rehabilitating youth, but also because the lengths of incarceration in the adult system are significantly longer and we would argue, more detrimental to public safety. Our analysis doesn’t even take into account a change in the recidivism rates or the improved economic prospects for youth who do not have to carry around an adult criminal record.”
Utilizing the standard Disposition Matrix from DJJ, PAJ and JMI identified the likely dispositions of the 871 youth who would no longer be eligible for direct file according to reform measures proposed during the 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions. Using this data combined with publically available data indicating the cost per day and the average length of stay for each type of disposition, to estimate the new costs incurred by DJJ. The estimates for subsequent years assume that the number of children retained in the juvenile system as a result of the reform of direct file will decline 10 percent each year. By FY2026, it is estimated that the annual cost of direct file reform to DJJ will fall below $10 million.
“Social scientific studies show that not only is direct file racially and geographically biased, but it actually increases crime and reduces public safety. Youth transferred to adult court are more likely to recidivate than youth retained in the juvenile justice system,” said Deborrah Brodsky, director at the Project on Accountable Justice at FSU. “Direct file reform allows both agencies to leverage their strengths. Kids who belong in the juvenile justice system will receive more effective services through DJJ, and the FDC will be positioned to focus efforts on those individuals who truly need to be retained in the adult system.”
The study also provides insight on the process juveniles being transferred into the adult court system and dispels several myths that pervade the debates about the practice: 1) that children prosecuted as adults are charged with “heinous” offenses; and 2) that most of the children prosecuted as adults are sentenced to adult prison. The report states that publically available data indicate that the majority of children prosecuted as adults were charged with non-violent crimes.
“We’ve looked at the data and it indicates that often when it comes to the use of direct file, prosecutors are exchanging public safety for expediency,” said Carlos Martinez, elected public defender for Miami-Dade county. “And children prosecuted as adults eventually go to prison because the adult system sets children up to fail, not because they were originally more likely to reoffend. These are real lives we are dealing with here — futures that are being crippled because we’re not willing to put in place a more proper checks and balances system. Every day that goes by without direct file reform is a day that public safety is diminished and lives are turned upside down.”