The Florida Legislature has agreed to allow certain Florida officials to visit the state’s juvenile justice facilities. It’s now heading to the Governor’s desk.
Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is the bill’s Senate sponsor.
“Everyone knows that all legislators can go visit prisons anytime they want, but what they didn’t have the power to do is go to the juvenile justice facilities,” he said. “So, this bill authorizes certain people including, but not limited to members of the legislature, the Governor, public defenders, to visit all state facilities, housing juveniles that are operated or overseen by the Department of Juvenile Justice between the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and between the hours as Department rules states.”
And, Brandes says he couldn’t have done this without the help of the bill’s House sponsor David Richardson. The Democratic Representative from Miami had started his work by looking into reforming the state’s prison system.
“The House sponsor of this bill, David Richardson, has done an amazing job visiting prison facilities across the state of Florida,” said Brandes. “I mean, he has gone to hundreds of correctional facilities, hundreds, toured many of them, knows the wardens by first name, and that has made a significant impact in one, how he sees the world of corrections, and then, giving us the same power in juvenile justice will let everybody know that our duty and responsibility is not just in this chamber. We are not just the mouth of the people, but the eyes and ears as well.”
As for Richardson, he says lawmakers and other non-legislators can enter the facility announced or unannounced.
“The statute that I have been using to enter state prisons announced or unannounced does not currently extend to DJJ facilities, so this bill will add that language to statute, and we will as legislators be able to go in and make inspections of DJJ facilities,” said Richardson. “I also want to mention that this does not affect in any way legal counsel’s current opportunity to enter DJJ facilities to represent their clients.”
Richardson is urging lawmakers who want to visit to use the current statute to enter adult prison facilities and the likely future statute to enter juvenile justice facilities, adding it will make a big difference.
“It may be a little intimidating as it was for me the first few times I entered not knowing what to expect, but after you do it the a couple of times, you know the layout and you know what questions to ask,” he added. “And, I would encourage you to use these statutes to go into these facilities, and I would encourage you after a little bit of experience to lead the tour. Don’t let the management in these facilities lead the tour. You have a right to walk in and inspect these facilities. So, take charge, walk in, say, ‘this is where I want to go today.’ You know, we can do this in a very respectful way.”
Richardson is expected to leave after the legislative session ends for a Congressional bid. And, after his farewell address, House Speaker Richard Corcoran called Richardson “a reformer” for his prison reform work.
“When I opened up this session, I talked about a House of reformers,” he said, at the time. “You are a reformer. You've had a tremendous impact in your short period of time, and it's been an honor to serve with you, and I wish you all the luck in all your future endeavors.”
With the Florida House and Senate’s unanimous passage, Richardson and Brandes’ bill now heads to Governor Rick Scott for approval. If approved, it will take effect July 1st.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.