Friday, April 25, 2008

Florida lawmakers spare juvenile centers

Agency officials must figure out how to trim $392,000 from next year's budget.
Sarah Lundy

Sentinel Staff Writer

April 24, 2008

The one-stop shops that serve Florida's troubled juveniles are saved.

Legislators on Wednesday agreed not to slash $7 million from the state's 17 Juvenile Assessment Centers, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Instead, lawmakers will cut $392,000 from the centers' budget next year.

"There's a huge sigh of relief on our part," said DJJ Assistant Secretary Darryl Olson. "At this point, we have the opportunity to keep all the JACs operational."

The agency plans to spread the $392,000 cut across all of the assessment centers, including those in Orange, Seminole, Polk and Brevard counties.

It's unclear how that will affect the individual centers, Olson said. Some might have a tougher time absorbing the cost than others.

Steve Dalsemer, Orange County JAC director, said he was thrilled to hear the centers will be around another year. Now, he said, he and his staff can shift from worrying about the immediate future to what they can do to make the center better.

"We're all just really happy," he said.

The Orange County center -- a windowless building on Central Boulevard near downtown Orlando ---- offers a slew of services. It's a place where police can drop off juveniles after they have been arrested. Last year, the center served 9,100 kids.

At the JAC, counselors hired by the Department of Children and Families assess the teenagers for drug-abuse and mental-health issues. Families also are referred to services in the community.

Students picked up for skipping school are taken to the truancy part of the center, where they wait until parents pick them up. Those with severe substance-abuse problems can stay in the detox area, which consists of a 20-bed coed residential program.

The battle to save some of the centers will begin again next year. Legislators agreed to fund the smaller centers, which include the ones in Seminole, Brevard and Polk, with money for this year only. The larger ones -- including those in Orlando, Miami and Tampa -- are expected to be funded again.

"We've bought some time, at least," Olson said.

Sarah Lundy can be reached at or 407-420-6218.

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