December, 17 2017
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STAR Academy in Florida Short on Funds
They were to bring a "new day" to juvenile justice in Florida a softer, gentler way to steer children away from crime.
Now, more than a year after they were created, only one STAR Academy exists in Florida and that single operating program is cutting back.
Born as a response to tragedy at the juvenile boot camps that were its predecessor, the STAR Academy system for juvenile offenders was doomed by a lack of resources to get off the ground, tight money since and the quick setup of the program.
"Every year we're fighting," said Kurt Lockwood, who runs the STAR Academy program of the Polk County Sheriff's Department. "I've got personnel leaving left and right."
As the Department of Juvenile Justice struggles to change its image and state lawmakers grapple with less revenue, Polk County officials say they are finding it tough to keep afloat the only STAR program in the state. Its $4.4 million budget may get hacked to $2.5 million, Lockwood said.
Legislators say the program is a victim of hard economic times for the state and perhaps a program created without the proper funding.
Origin of this Program for Troubled Teens
The STAR Academies program was born in 2006 as a more gentle replacement to the juvenile boot camp system. It was to be known as "Sheriff's Training And Respect," and developed to emphasize education, family counseling and post-release monitoring of offenders.
The new program was a response to the death of Martin Lee Anderson. The 14-year-old Panama City resident was beaten by drill instructors at the Bay County juvenile boot camp on Jan. 5, 2006, and died the day after. The incident was captured on videotape.
Eight defendants in the case were acquitted of felony aggravated manslaughter of a child in October and cleared of all charges in Anderson's death. A federal investigation of the incident is ongoing.
Some say the five juvenile boot camps operating in Florida at the time Anderson died weren't all bad and that their get-tough model worked.
One Bad Apple Spoiled All the Treatment Programs
"Unfortunately, they were all painted with a broad brush from what happened in Bay County," said Cathy Craig-Myers, executive director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association. "The military aspect had to go away. It was perceived as part of the problem."
Juveniles arrested and charged criminally get into the Department of Juvenile Justice that works in conjunction with counties.
Minor offenses usually end up with the juvenile at home and in a diversion program. More serious offenses, or repeat offenders, get the kids placed in a secure residential treatment program.
Between 1993 and 2006, six counties ran juvenile boot camps for troubled teens as one of the options for those more serious offenders. After Anderson's death, the boot camps were shut down and STAR Academies proposed as an alternative. They were designed for high-risk youth who, once they are sent to the secure, residential programs, stay there on average between 18 and 36 months.
STAR Academies were designed to be less confrontational than boot camps and weren't supposed to use physical intervention, as boot camps did.
Why Some Treatment Programs Were 'Ineffective'
The boot camps, Craig-Myers said, were ineffective because of poor resources and not enough well-trained staff.
"When you don't have the right resources to attract them, it's a real challenge," she said. "No one wants to run a program that is set up to fail."
The same has proven true of the STAR Academies.
Sen. Victor Crist, chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations committee, said it would've been easier to reform the boot camp program instead of creating a new one, as STAR set out to do.
"Ultimately, we can only work with resources appropriated, and to start a new program you need startup capital," said Crist, R-Tampa. "The sheriffs were left to eat a whole lot of capital they weren't supposed to swallow."
Finding new money to invigorate STAR won't be any easier.
Crist said the Criminal and Civil Justice committee is facing a 2.2 percent reduction in funding for its programs this fiscal year and 4 percent less in the coming one.
No New Money May Mean an End to the STAR Program
Most sheriff offices that ran boot camps for juvenile offenders in Bay, Manatee, Pinellas and Martin counties said they opted not to move to the STAR Academy program because of a lack in funding, said Kevin Cate, DJJ spokesman.
Crist said the STAR program is valuable.
"But if it's going to take new money, we don't have it," Crist said. "The transition to it happened at the last minute and the locals weren't prepared for it."
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Tennessee Academy for Troubled Youth Loses State Funding 12/20/07
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New Home for Troubled Teens Opens in New Jersey 12/16/07
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Florida Trooper Uses Chess to Help Troubled Teens 12/14/07
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