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Governor Crist Signs DJJ Priority Legislation Enhancing Zero Tolerance in Schools

Senate Bill 1540 removes one-size-fits-all mandatory criminal punishment

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Tallahassee -- Governor Charlie Crist today signed priority DJJ legislation that will reduce the number of children referred to the juvenile justice system from schools for petty acts of misconduct. Signed at Jacksonville’s Robert E. Lee High School, Senate Bill 1540 helps ensure an effective learning environment by balancing student safety and fairly addressing student misconduct.

"This legislation maintains Florida’s strict school safety policies while reducing the unintended consequences that have led to the wrongful placement of students in the juvenile justice system," said Governor Crist. "Florida’s children are one of our most important resources for securing Florida’s future, and we must ensure they have a safe, fair and first-class education."

"I congratulate Gov. Crist, Sen. Stephen Wise and Representative Jennifer Carroll for their deep commitment to the youth of our state," said DJJ Secretary Frank Peterman Jr. "This law will help reshape zero tolerance policies in a way that will reduce the number of children entering the juvenile justice system, and better address misbehavior in our schools without jeopardizing school safety."

Senate Bill 1540 requires school boards to revise their zero-tolerance policies to ensure that students expelled or referred to law enforcement pose a serious threat to school safety, and are not expelled or arrested for petty misconduct. In addition, schools allowing corporal punishment must review their policies publicly at a school board meeting once every three years. The legislation also specifies that zero-tolerance policies must be applied equally to students, regardless of economic status, race and disability.

Senate Bill 1540 is expected to redirect a large number of children away from the juvenile justice system through diversionary alternatives. Research shows that excluding children from school increases the odds of academic failure and dropping out. Moreover, once a child or teenager is involved in the juvenile justice system, the odds of that child or teenager becoming more deeply embedded in the system dramatically increases. During fiscal year 2007-08, 15 percent of referrals to the juvenile justice system – 21,000 students – were from schools. In addition, 59 percent of those 21,000 students were first-time offenders. Sixty-nine percent of the school-related referrals qualified as misdemeanors.

Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman joined Governor Crist, bill sponsors Senator Stephen Wise and Representative Jennifer Carroll, and Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith at Jacksonville’s Robert E. Lee High School for the ceremonial bill signing. Senate Bill 1540 was passed unanimously in the Florida House and Senate.

School Related Referrals for First Time Offenders by County
(Fiscal Year 2007-08)
County School-Related Youth First Referral % First Referral County School-Related Youth First Referral % First Referral
Alachua 350 167 48% Lake 326 213 65%
Baker 18 13 72% Lee 362 242 67%
Bay 216 125 58% Leon 353 208 59%
Bradford 36 19 53% Levy 78 45 58%
Brevard 647 379 59% Liberty 4 2 50%
Broward 1,370 769 56% Madison 25 12 48%
Calhoun 10 7 70% Manatee 491 293 60%
Charlotte 120 76 63% Marion 559 339 61%
Citrus 97 59 61% Martin 150 87 58%
Clay 230 158 69% Monroe 106 79 75%
Collier 420 259 62% Nassau 69 53 77%
Columbia 122 68 56% Okaloosa 159 103 65%
Dade 1,634 1,010 62% Okeechobee 87 56 64%
DeSoto 16 7 44% Orange 1,018 600 59%
Dixie 3 2 67% Osceola 386 244 63%
Duval 1,062 681 64% Palm Beach 640 282 44%
Escambia 567 381 67% Pasco 340 195 57%
Flagler 127 76 60% Pinellas 911 438 48%
Franklin 4 0 0% Polk 967 512 53%
Gadsden 81 38 47% Putnam 163 77 47%
Gilchrist 23 15 65% St. Johns 167 87 52%
Glades 7 3 43% St. Lucie 500 298 60%
Gulf 19 12 63% Santa Rosa 129 71 55%
Hamilton 24 14 58% Sarasota 262 135 52%
Hardee 20 14 70% Seminole 366 247 67%
Hendry 91 64 70% Sumter 49 33 67%
Hernando 106 54 51% Suwannee 94 53 56%
Highlands 149 83 56% Taylor 17 10 59%
Hillsborough 1,824 1,132 62% Union 10 7 70%
Holmes 15 10 67% Volusia 749 398 53%
Indian River 125 77 62% Wakulla 15 13 87%
Jackson 90 56 62% Walton 34 23 68%
Jefferson 13 7 54% Washington 47 30 64%
Lafayette 0 0 0% Other 93 63 68%
        Totals 19,362 11,383 59%

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