Juvenile boot camps are due to be
eliminated and replaced with 'Star Academies,' Florida lawmakers
March 25, 2006
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER AND MARC CAPUTO
TALLAHASSEE - Juvenile boot camps in Florida are about to disappear
-- at least in name -- and be replaced by kinder, gentler versions
that will emphasize counseling over military-style drills and
exercise, state lawmakers said Friday.
The camps are to be named ''Star Academies'' and will get more money
The House committee overseeing the budget for the Department of
Juvenile Justice approved the change in name, money and policy to
make them clones of Martin County's boot camp, the most successful
in Florida. Senate counterparts are expected to agree with the House
The action came two and a half months after 14-year-old Martin Lee
Anderson's death at a Panama City boot camp after guards forced him
to exercise, then punched and kneed him when he couldn't continue.
His death on Jan. 6 is still under investigation as a special
prosecutor weighs whether to file criminal charges against anyone at
That camp is about to close, and the remaining four will be improved
as a result of Martin's death, an all-too-familiar story for
lawmakers and activists who cite the case of 14-year-old Omar
His 2003 death in a Miami lockup led to Department of Juvenile
''It is heartbreaking to continuously make changes only after a
death occurs,'' said Rep. Mitch Needleman, a Melbourne Republican.
Needleman and other committee members say they want a ''holistic''
model that emphasizes counseling and education rather than exercise
and strict discipline.
The sheriffs who run the four remaining camps in Florida -- in
Martin, Manatee, Pinellas and Polk counties -- say they support the
idea because they're tired of being portrayed as running juvenile
gulags. Plus, for years they've asked for more money but have been
Under the new plan, the camps would see a 22 percent increase in the
money the state pays them on a daily basis for watching each kid.
The rate now is $81.39, and the committee proposed a $100 rate, for
a total cost of $10.5 million.
The committee was able to raise the rate without dramatically
increasing spending because it wants to redirect the money from the
Bay Boot Camp.
''We are eliminating boot camps as they now stand in the state of
Florida completely,'' said Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach
Republican who chairs the House Criminal Justice Appropriations
Committee. ``If the boot camps adopt our policies, they will be
funded. If they don't want to adopt them, they won't be funded.''
Barreiro's proposed budget will likely be approved by the Senate,
and thus the entire Legislature, said Sen. Rod Smith, an Alachua
Democrat who is the vice chairman of the Senate's criminal justice
Smith made sure the Senate's budget requires the detention
facilities to have registered nurses, and he included $250,000 for
more medical care for children. The House budget has no money for
that. The governor recommends $3.7 million.
Smith praised the House plan, which essentially requires the new
facilities to clone Martin County's boot camp. Martin County
de-emphasized military discipline and increased mental health
treatment, drug counseling and aftercare and mentoring services.
The wide array of services allowed the Martin camp to have the
lowest re-offender rate in the state: 22 percent.
Martin's sheriff, Bob Crowder, had planned to close his camp for
lack of money, but now he is reconsidering. However, Crowder wanted
a daily rate of $115, not $100. Crowder couldn't be reached for
''Martin County has something that works,'' said Rep. Sandra Adams,
an Oviedo Republican who is on the House appropriations committee.
``Would I call it a boot camp? I don't think so.''
TOTAL BAN WANTED
Some lawmakers, including Barreiro, had urged the committee to
eliminate all of the state's boot camps in the wake of Martin's
death, arguing the camps' emphasis on physical discipline was not
effective in turning around troubled teens, some of whom came from
physically abusive families. However, sheriffs pointed out that
their camps were not as hands-on as the Panama City camp.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said he likes the House plan but
added that sheriffs want to analyze it and make sure they're getting
enough to run the camps.
''They could say $100, and that sounds great, but not if they give
us $140 worth of demand,'' Judd said. DJJ Secretary Anthony Schembri
has met with sheriffs to discuss new policies -- including the
reduction in the use of force on kids -- but his plan has yet to be
''This is a legislative decision,'' agency spokeswoman Cynthia
Lorenzo said Friday. ``We are working in cooperation with the
Legislature and the sheriff's offices to make all our programs as
effective as possible.''
House members, who have wielded enormous influence over the
Department of Juvenile Justice in recent years amid a spate of
scandals that have drawn national attention, touted Friday's action
as a signal they will not tolerate programs that do not help
children -- or actually harm them.
''This is a big win for kids who are coming into the system,''
Barreiro said. ``It took the death of Martin Lee Anderson for us to
say we need to do away with these programs. We need to make sure
this young man didn't die in vain.''