FL’s juvenile detention centers struggle to recruit workers; high turnover rate is unsustainable

By: - September 23, 2021 4:22 pm

Monroe Juvenile Detention Center. Credit: Florida Department of Juvenile Justice website.

The state’s juvenile justice department revealed this week that workers are leaving their jobs because of low wages that cause high turnover rates, and officials are requesting more funds to raise salaries.

Josefina Tamayo, acting secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, urged state lawmakers this week to support the agency’s budget proposal for  2022-23 to boost pay for “individuals who are taking care of children in our detention centers 24 hours a day.”

Those positions are juvenile justice detention officers, supervisors and juvenile justice probation officers, according to Tamayo. The agency is requesting $15.3 million in continuing funds for pay increases. Lawmakers will be building the state budget during the 2022 legislative session.

Tamayo told the members of the House Justice Appropriation Subcommittee that those funds would help to address “recruitment and retention concerns” associated with the positions.

Currently, the juvenile detention officers make around $13 an hour and Tamayo said she would want at least $17 an hour. As to supervisors, she said they earn around $14 an hour, but wants to increase that to $18.

“The turnover rate associated with the positions has consistently risen over the last decade and is currently at unsustainable high levels,” she said.

During the meeting, Tamayo said that the turnover rate has increased to 68 percent for juvenile detention officers, over the last five years. For juvenile probation officers, the turnover rate is at 17 percent, Tamayo added.

“Despite repeated efforts to address these issues, including a recently approved increase in the base rate of pay, the trends and conditions related to the turnover rate and recruitment continue to worsen,” Tamayo said.

Meanwhile, committee members requested more insight into contributing factors connected to the turnover rate at Florida’s DJJ.

State Rep. Christopher Benjamin, a Democrat representing part of  Miami-Dade County, requested a report from the agency that includes other contributing factors to the turnover rate. Tamayo said she will provide that report to state lawmakers and invited them to visit the detention facilities.

“I’m assuming that there are other factors other than just the pay,” Benjamin said.

According to the state’s DJJ website, probation officers work with youth who are charged with a crime “to help juveniles get back on track to become successful.” And juvenile detention officers work in detention facilities across the state, providing direct care to the youth.

The Florida Phoenix has been covering the juvenile justice front, as juvenile justice advocates hope to expand so-called diversion programs to include felony offenses. The programs usually focus on youth misdemeanor incidents and Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed legislation this summer because of concerns regarding serious felonies.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.