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House passes bill requiring DJJ to pay funeral costs for kids who die in state care

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida House unanimously approved a measure requiring the Department of Juvenile Justice to pay $5,000 to the families to help cover the funeral costs for children who die in the state’s care.

The bill (HB 173) was prompted by a dispute last year over funeral costs for Eric Perez, who died on July 10. Guards at a West Palm Beach DJJ facility waited more than six hours before calling 911 after Perez began vomiting, hallucinating and complaining of severe headaches, according to official reports of the incident.

In August, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s office denied a payment to a funeral home to cover the costs of Perez’s funeral after initially approving the request from DJJ. Atwater’s staff told DJJ to cancel it because the agency lacked the authority for the payment, although DJJ has had a policy for at least two years to provide up to $5,000 for funeral costs of children who die while in their custody whose families are indigent.

The House unanimously approved the measure, which would put the agency’s policy into law and avoid disputes that arose over Perez’s funeral payment.

The Senate has yet to send an identical measure (SB 504) to the floor for a vote.

Senator demands financials from DJJ on psychotropic meds

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 by Dara Kam

After blistering Department of Juvenile Justice officials earlier this week in her own committee, Sen. Ronda Storms again took the agency to task over its use of psychotropic medications, this time during a budget presentation in the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee.

The department is conducting an internal investigation into the use of drugs after The Palm Beach Post revealed that agency has plied jailed kids with heavy doses of psychotropic medications and that one in three DJJ psychiatrists had taken payments or gifts from the makers of the drugs.

Storms compared DJJ’s use of the mind-altering medications to that of the Department of Children, Families and Elder Affiars, which her committee oversees and with which she has also butted heads on the use of the meds.

“We have children who have been scalded and burned and had acid poured on them, who have been starved, who have been beaten, who’ve had bones broken, who have had horrible things happen to them. In that population, only 14 percent of the population is medicated. Of your population, over 34 percent of your population is medicated with psychotropic drugs,” Storms, R-Valrico, told DJJ director for administrative services Fred Schuknecht. “As you know, the ongoing invetstigation is whether or not the department was using psychotropic drugs possibly as a result of bribery or as a result of discipline.”

Storms ordered Schuknecht to come back with a financial analysis of DJJ’s spending on psychotropic drugs “for your entire population for whatever the reason.

“And I would like that post-haste,” Storms added.

“We’ll do it,” Schuknecht assured her.

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