SCLC: Priority Agenda for Jacksonville’s Poverty/Crime Problem

Opio Sokoni, President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Jacksonville

Michael Hallett, University of North Florida

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated. -Martin Luther King, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1958

Just prior to the explosive events in Ferguson, Missouri, alarm about the state of crime in Jacksonville was making headlines. The membership of the SCLC of Jacksonville has come together out of a sense of concern for our community, out of a sense of exasperation about the state of criminal justice in Florida and the nation, and out of a deep desire to see that peace, equality and fairness dictate justice policy and practice. But justice and fairness are not what we have today.  Unfortunately, criminal justice policy in Florida has devolved into advocacy of “warning shots” and “standing your ground” instead of civil dialogue and community outreach.  We have lost all common sense and attention to the common good.  In the spirit of Dr King, our ongoing work is devoted to changing that dynamic.  Today we have a justice system that destroys people, not one that heals them; a system where recidivism is higher after release from prison than prior to confinement; a justice system perpetrating a costly, ineffective and unfair war on drugs that disproportionately impacts and impoverishes minority families; a justice system in Jacksonville where black children comprise only one third of all children but two thirds of juvenile arrests and ninety percent of juveniles under confinement; Jacksonville is a place where literally tens of thousands of children live in poverty and where the majority of these children have no after school resources. While crime is down, the concentration of Disproportionate Minority Contact of juveniles with the criminal justice system in Jacksonville has increased since 2005.  But we speak of a Jacksonville that is sadly typical of the American urban landscape. As Jacksonville develops its annual budget, SCLC wishes to highlight the importance of community-based programs over policing.

Today, as you know, racial division dominates American criminal justice practice. The incarceration rate for African-American males in the United States is five times higher than that for whites and constitutes the demographic under strictest confinement in any democratic nation on earth. Just because Barack Obama is President of the United States, our nation is not one today that is in any way post-racial. Indeed, we believe Dr King would suggest we’re again becoming a post-Civil Rights society: back on the road to limiting black citizens’ opportunities to vote; back on the road to re-segregation of public schools; back on the road to persistent, dramatic and increasing economic inequality; and fully on the road to seeing a “New Jim Crow” featuring Hyper- Incarceration of black men and boys that only facilitates all the previously mentioned exclusions.

If Dr. King were alive to witness the state of American criminal justice today, he would testify that the “war on drugs” and the “war on poverty” have become, in fact, wars on the same people. Both amounted to highly-racialized containment strategies that further ghettoized the poor by locking citizens into isolated housing projects well outside of the flow of commerce and politics–after which the “war on drugs” locked these same citizens into a prison industrial complex now so vast that it operates in part for profit and actively donates to political campaigns.  As illicit drug markets now dominate the collapsing economies of America’s de-industrialized ghettos, Dr King would have to repeat his message: The self-perpetuating failure system of managing poverty through “containment strategies” that rely on race and demonizing the poor has got to stop. We are one community of citizens. Construction and maintenance of prison zip-codes through laissez-faire ghettoization and hyper-incarceration has failed us locally and nationally; it has got to stop.

 PRIORITY AGENDA FOR JACKSONVILLE

  1. IMPLEMENT A COMMUNITY-BASED TASK FORCE ON URBAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT INCLUDING BUSINESS LEADERS (MUCH LIKE THE PENSION TASK FORCE).
  2. IMMEDIATELY REINVIGORATE AND EXPAND FUNDING FOR JACKSONVILLE JOURNEY WITH A PRIORITY ON COMMUNITY PROGRAMS.
  3. WITH COOPERATION OF THE SHERIFF INSTITUTE A FORMALIZED CIVILIAN POLICE/COMMUNITY OVERSIGHT PROCESS.
  4. IMMEDIATELY ADDRESS STATED CONCERNS ABOUT JUVENILE PROSECUTION
  5. IMMEDIATELY EXPAND FUNDING FOR MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES; FOR BOTH PTDF AND NON-PROFIT.
  6. REINVIGORATE DISCUSSION OF MIAMI’S CHILDREN’S TRUST AGENDA.
  7. EXPAND RESOURCES FOR COMMUNITY-BASED RACIAL DIALOGUE
  8. APPOINT A CITIZEN-LED OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE TO MONITOR BENCHMARKS (MUCH LIKE JACKSONVILLE JOURNEY OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE)

A PERSPECTIVE ON RACE AND CRIME FROM JACKSONVILLE: PRIORITIES MOVING FORWARD

 First: Recognize Identity Thwarted and Denigrated.

Please stop trying to obscure the complexities of history, economics and race by reducing lives of impoverished citizens to soundbite policies that demonize the poor: for example, policies like “drug testing for all welfare recipients” needlessly shame poor citizens while falsely justifying a failed “drug war” mentality, even as no evidence whatsoever exists showing welfare recipients use drugs in any higher proportion than the general public. The criminological evidence is clear: most poor people work hard and are law-abiding. Addiction and illicit drug markets do predominate poor neighborhoods, but this is due to a lack of viable economies and social isolation. Only when citizens are treated with concern and dignity can we heal our community, encouraging all citizens to fully develop their talents. Stop the politics of HATE.

 Second: Recognize Big-Government when You See It

Much recent criminological scholarship examines the shift toward high incarceration over the past 35 years, especially as it corresponds to a dismantling of the welfare state and rise of a “big government security state.” Jacksonville’s never ending starvation/crisis reaction budget cycle that characterizes Jacksonville’s crime problem has got to stop. It has become a perfect self-perpetuating failure system, both locally and nationally: expand the workload of agencies while cutting resources until crises emerge, then use crises to reluctantly patch, entrenching big government agencies even further while never addressing root problems. In always trying to get by on the cheap, Jacksonville is blighting the city even further while remaining captive to its own destructive process. We would emphasize this is as true for poor children as it is for Jacksonville’s police officers themselves, by simply pointing to the city’s pension crisis affecting police and fire fighters.  Has the City even dealt fairly with its own police?  In the matrix of crime control versus funding for other city “priorities,” police and poor children have very much in common.  This reveals a lot about crime and social relations in Jacksonville: 1) we are not taking the crime problem seriously in Jacksonville because if we were policies would be more broad-based and inclusive; 2) valuable civic infrastructure is merely destroyed by draconian criminal punishments for crimes more deeply rooted in economics and family breakdown.

While Jacksonville prides itself on being a low tax city even as it loses population to surrounding counties with more robust civic infrastructure, it continues to over-rely on its criminal justice system as last resort civic infrastructure. A prosperity agenda for Jacksonville cannot be founded simply upon trying to police and prosecute Jacksonville’s way out of urban marginality.This model merely perpetuates inequality and expands the social isolation of the poor. A Comprehensive Strategy with citizen involvement and meaningful benchmarks must be put in place. But city leaders seem content to watch people vote with their feet, at least those who can. This is the opposite of a prosperity agenda. It is rendering Jacksonville a hollowed-out shell of a city featuring lots of debt, heavy incarceration amid questionable expenses like a massive new courthouse and citizen funded amenities for corporate sports franchises.

 Third. Prioritize Love and Concern for Neighbor/Common Good

Finally, Dr. King “stood his ground” by pointing to what he called the “unarmed truth”—the merciful and loving example of Jesus Christ and His repeated statements of concern for the poor and excluded as the first standard for all conversations about justice.  If you’re going to follow Jesus, you have to be concerned about the suffering of your neighbors.  To be concerned about suffering means you have to be honest about history.  Being honest about history requires we talk about present day structural violence and meeting citizens’ basic needs: we don’t have a dropout problem in our schools, we have a push-out problem; we don’t have a criminal justice problem, we have a criminal INJUSTICE problem; we don’t have an low tax austerity problem in Jacksonville, we have a generosity problem.  By following the example of Jesus Christ and showing concern for our neighbors, we can heal the city and come together in respect and partnership in ways that SAVE taxpayer money and improve the prospects of the City as a whole. We are as concerned for the well-being of our police officers as we are for juveniles in lock-up. Police and citizens must be partners in achieving community well-being.

 

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Duval Pension Crisis: Florida Times-Union Way Off

By Michael Hallett

It wasn’t too long ago in Jacksonville that local “conservative” politicians had a lock on votes from police and firemen. Jacksonville’s carefully crafted bevy of off-cycle elections guaranteed low voter turnout.

Public sector workers, having the most direct stake in local election results, actually showed up to vote. If you’re upset about Jacksonville’s pension situation, be upset first about the false promise of “shrinking government” when so few voters participate.

OFF-CYCLE ELECTIONS

The Times-Union frequently bemoans Jacksonville’s lack of civic identity even while sensationalizing a brand of politics governed by local magnates (Shad Khan, Peter Rummell) and wannabe magnates (Civic Council) instead of citizens themselves.

Whether in crime, education or public finance, Jacksonville’s root problem is not fiscal austerity. It is lack of civic engagement. The city desperately needs more on-cycle and nonpartisan elections for Sheriff. Spare me the rhetoric about how local elections highlight local issues. Off-cycle elections help obscure local issues from public comment.

In that context, I’ve been disappointed with the Times-Union’s coverage of Jacksonville’s pension crisis. I’ve studied public finance of criminal justice for many years. And I think the Times-Union got the pension issue wrong from the very beginning.

First, while demonizing the Police and Fire Pension Fund and John Keane especially, the paper offered almost zero coverage of the fact that the city’s two other large pension funds are also badly insolvent, to the tune of several hundred million dollars.

It failed to mention a pending federal lawsuit involving city employees excluded from opportunities to enroll in the pension, with probable liabilities of several hundred million dollars. Clearly the city’s failed oversight of public pensions extends beyond anything unique to the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

But the Times-Union inserted itself into the story with its public records lawsuit and lost all objectivity, blowing that out of proportion as well, given that City Council still had to approve the deal negotiated in “secret” in public deliberations and a public vote. And turned it down.

Instead of “pension holidays,” an irresponsibly low millage rate, weak formal oversight by the city of pension plans and a serious financial crisis, John Keane was to blame.

THE BIG PICTURE 

But the pension crisis does offer a window into that eroded sense of community rightly of concern to the Times-Union. When cops are finally thrown into the same meat grinder as teachers, firemen, poor children and inmates in the local jail, it seems to me a criminological moment of epiphany.

The “rabble management” budget includes the cops because public schools and public health and public safety is all just rabble management, right? Calling for a renewal of Jacksonville Journey, yet failing to make explicit the connection between no money for cops and no money for poor kids and no money for teachers, while curiously highlighting the connection between blighted neighborhoods and “human blight” and more need for community, I think you found it!

It is among cops and teachers and firemen that community actually begins to flourish and becomes sustained. It used to be clear that cops and teachers and firemen held up the community. And they still do.

Perhaps this got obscured by that new scoreboard.

*

This piece also published as a Guest Column by Florida Times Union, 6/13/14: http://members.jacksonville.com/business/columnists/2014-06-13/story/guest-column-times-union-missed-boat-pension

 

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Evidence, Not Anecdotes, Should Govern Justice Policy

By Michael Hallett

Given Jacksonville’s noted fiscal conservatism, I often wonder how long it is going to take taxpayers here to recognize failed big government when they see it. At root in Jacksonville’s current debate about using Civil Citations for resolving minor delinquency, the policy’s nationwide proven effectiveness has received little direct attention. As a policy endorsed by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and implemented widely by jurisdictions including Miami-Dade, diverting first-time juvenile offenders away from the criminal justice system rather than throwing them into it, saves taxpayer money and redirects the behavior of children on the wrong path.  Allow me to share some unsurprising news: overwhelming evidence shows that American prisons do nothing to promote good behavior nor pro-social values. Recidivism is the norm. There is also overwhelming evidence that when children are thrown into prisons they become victims, recidivate at higher rates, and become institutionalized (adopt the anti-social values they learn in prison). So, when Angela Corey recently noted that “cost evaluations have to include the cost of when individuals reoffend”–I had to agree entirely! Which is exactly why we need to do everything in our power to keep children away from the experience of incarceration. Stop causing crime by sending so many children to prison! Even conservatives like Jeb Bush and the organization RightOnCrime see criminal justice as failed big government. So I’m elated to hear so many voices rising up in Jacksonville reminding the community that every “successful prosecution” of a child is in fact a community failure and not a success.

Proven alternatives to the criminal justice system that cost less and shrink government, include other “soft” notions like after school programs and early literacy agendas. Yes, many parents in Jacksonville are failing their children. Sending these children to prison or saddling them with an unnecessary arrest record will do nothing to set them right. Unfortunately, these failed policies have been in place for so long, that they have created a self-fulfilling prophecy: the solid majority of inmates in Florida Department of Corrections prisons have no higher than a 6th grade achievement level. Please don’t allow horrific anecdotes to continue to overwhelm the evidence. Expand use of Civil Citation in Jacksonville and continue to fight for our children.

 

 

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Duval: Black children 2/3 of Juvenile Arrests 2011-12

By Michael Hallett

While African-American children under 18 comprised only roughly 37% of the total juvenile population in Jacksonville for FY 2011 – 2012, black children constituted fully 2/3 of all juvenile arrests in Duval County according to DJJ data (below). While crime is down, the concentration of minority children who are the focus of Duval’s criminal justice system is increasing.  African American males comprise by far the largest category of juvenile arrests.

The extent to which juvenile arrests in Jacksonville are almost exclusively an experience of minority children, is the extent to which Jacksonville is not moving to the next level.  Keep in mind, too, that these arrests are almost entirely of children between 10 – 18, not the full population of under 18 juveniles in the county. Jacksonville’s over-leveraged but under-funded criminal justice system diverts community-building resources away from programs that might help and exacerbates Disproportionate Minority Contact with the criminal justice system.  As in a previous post on juvenile prosecution in Duval, Jacksonville also prosecutes a large number of juveniles as adults once arrested.  In short, Jacksonville has got money to prosecute and jail these children, but few resources to work with them in the context of prevention and intervention. This is structural racism at its worst, with high concentrations of arrests in Jacksonville’s black neighborhoods (click on maps to enlarge).

no streets Duval Active Delinquents 2011-12 update no streets.pdf-1

First Contact Violence: 84% of Juvenile Arrests for Violence are Child’s First

Another complexity of Duval juvenile violence is “first contact violence”–that is, when a juvenile’s first arrest is for a violent crime. Of the roughly 3,000 juvenile arrests in Duval for FY 2011-2012, 1146 of these involved “first-contact” violence–when a child’s first arrest is for a violent crime. Violent crimes depicted here are felonies. A clear concentration of these arrests take place in poor black neighborhoods, but they are spread throughout the county. In part because of Jacksonville’s under-funding of crime prevention programs of the sort sponsored by Jacksonville Journey, a large number of juveniles have as their first arrest a violent crime–after which, they are prosecuted as adults.  By then, all opportunity for intervention and prevention has been lost.  Yet every “successful” prosecution of a child for a crime is arguably a defeat for the community, not a victory. But when all you’ve got is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. And often, violence gets worse.

DJJ Referrals-1st Referral Violent-Duval 2011-12 update no streets.pdf-1In the most alarming statistic, of all the juveniles who have arrests for violence (1351), 84% of these have as their first arrest a violent crime (1146). At the same time, more than half of juveniles transferred to adult court in Duval last year faced minor crimes.  What is going on?  A simplistic, indiscriminate harshness describes Duval’s approach, with no real strategy for addressing the longer-term underlying causes of violence. As prevention and intervention resources are slashed, with so many juveniles having as their first arrest a violent crime, Jacksonville has created a self-generating ecology of violence.  Alternatives to prosecution and incarceration of juveniles are proven to be more effective. Of the 1351 juvenile arrests for violence, 963 of these are African-American children (over 70%).

DJJ Referrals-Ever Violent-Duval 2011-12 update (1).pdf

Bold New City? Let Us Begin Again

I’ve come to believe Jacksonville’s public safety mess served the interests of those who refused to change it for so long, while citizens most severely affected by crime lacked the power to do so.  When will Duval learn that interventions like therapeutic counseling and family-focused treatments lower delinquency more effectively and at a fraction of the cost of incarceration?

Addressing this structural violence through intervention programs saves tax payer money and improves the lives of children. Many of Jacksonville’s at-risk juveniles–through no fault of their own–live lives that involve school separation, family breakdown, and poverty.  Conditions in the social environment put them at a disadvantage relative to their more affluent peers, in education particularly.  Until the basic needs of these children are met, regardless of race, these data reveal a desperate pattern of violence and arrest for more than 1/3 of Jacksonville’s juveniles.

Check out FL DJJ’s own Statistical Breakdown of all FY 2011-2012 juvenile arrests for Duval by Gender/Race here (use the link to explore statewide as well):

Duval Juvenile Arrests by Race/Gender

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Consolidation Fails Jacksonville Public Safety

By Michael Hallett

I am not surprised Mayor Alvin Brown came to agreement with police and fire employees over pension benefits that had long been agreed upon and reasserted in multiple contracts over many years — and run through the General Counsel’s office.

These employees deserve what they were promised repeatedly across diverse sets of political leadership, including multiple mayors, council presidents and council members.

Given all the bluster about the need for “reform” — and Jacksonville supposedly facing “bankruptcy”— it is indeed a surprise that the resulting agreement is so favorable to current employees.

I suspect this means that:

- The strong legal position of the employees was finally recognized and conceded in the privacy of mediation.

- And more importantly that the strong political position of employees reasserted itself all the more.

Unions are No. 1 force
For as everyone knows, public sector employee unions are the single most powerful force in Jacksonville’s off-cycle local elections.

None of this is unique to Jacksonville, nor the fault of Brown. If you’re hoping for some major reform, I am not optimistic about City Council’s ability to stand up to these same pressures.

My beef with the current arrangement is not fair pay and benefits for public employees, who provide essential public service. Other Florida cities experienced the same economic downturn and are nowhere near as insolvent on pensions.

The problem is Jacksonville’s old-fashioned patronage style off-cycle election politics that renders office seekers captive to the endorsement of police and fire while also toadying up to the conceit of “no new taxes.”

The inconvenient truth is that elected officials repeatedly signed off on the benefits packages they now claim to hate and cannot afford.

City Council is caught in the cross hairs of its own contradiction — and now they want their own lawyer.

In addition, that is, to the lawyer they already have in the city’s General Counsel’s office, which helped to negotiate the very contract they said is illegal.

Come on, this system is broken. City father Ed Austin said as much in the last Charter Revision Commission hearings.

Consolidation needs changes
Establishing a structure that requires all parties to work together is key.

The whole idea of “consolidation” was that everyone does not get their own lawyer; so much for that.

This is precisely why almost all consolidated governments in the United States have gone to appointed chiefs and metropolitan police departments.

Fiscal and political oversight for public safety is spread across City Council and mayor, with chiefs unable to tender layoffs as the “only alternative” to budget reductions as Sheriff John Rutherford did recently.

Recall when Brown’s office recently “forgot” to tell the sheriff about an abrupt $6 million dollar cut.

This would not happen with a co-appointed chief, which provides for deeper fiscal oversight, spreads accountability and renders [filtered word] safety less of a political football.

For example, as a result of having an appointed chief for fire, the city has more direct control over spending on equipment, has made numerous station closures over the objections of employees and generally comes to agreement more quickly on everything else.

Yes, fire has pension issues, too, but that’s because they are bundled together into one managing entity, the Police and Fire Pension Fund — the result of agreements signed repeatedly by elected officials going back decades.

The solution to structural contradictions is to fix the structure.

About the author: Michael Hallett,is professor and chairman in the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice at the University of North Florida.

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Delaney Would Meet with PFPF: Jacksonville’s Pension Crisis

By Michael Hallett

After participating in WJCT’s First Coast Forum on Jacksonville’s pension crisis last week, two things were abundantly clear:  1) the complexity of the issue fogs the public’s brain and inhibits comprehensive dialogue; and 2) the conversation is headed in the wrong direction, with positions already hardened to such an extent that timely resolution of the pension crisis in Jacksonville seems unlikely. With Jacksonville leading the state in both homicide and violent crime committed by assailants using firearms, this does not bode well for the City.  So I took the opportunity to sit down with UNF President John Delaney to dig deeper into his unique understanding of the issues–and to get his take on how the City should move forward at this critical time.

Delaney had a lot to say, including:  that if he were mayor he would sit down with the Police and Fire Pension Fund to negotiate benefits; that those promoting the notion Jacksonville took a “pension holiday” during his tenure “don’t know what they’re talking about”; and that talk of Jacksonville falling into bankruptcy is “hyperbole.” Also John Keane, President of the Police and Fire Pension Fund, is a “decent man” and a “deal maker” who is “not the devil he is being made out to be.”

Delaney mapped out a vision showing optimism and commitment to employee fairness, albeit while maintaining a pretty laissez-faire attitude about what looks like high turnover in JSO due to fears about pension reform.  As to the Sheriff’s and others’ claims about a pension holiday:  “The Sheriff is really a great sheriff and a friend, but he doesn’t know much about pensions or how they work. If the Sheriff thinks we ought to raise taxes and give him that money, then let him make that case. Is he real efficient, I don’t know if he is or isn’t.” Overall, however, Delaney thinks that a protracted dispute on the pension would hurt Jacksonville.

Big Picture. To frame the interview, I offered four prominent constructions about what has caused Jacksonville’s pension crisis: 1) city government took a “pension holiday” and failed to meet its fiscal obligations by paying sufficiently into the fund to keep it solvent (and by some accounts, even “raided” the fund of its reserves when times were good); 2) Jacksonville’s pathologically-low millage rate reflects a “government on the cheap” philosophy and has long been inadequate for meeting the needs of its citizens; 3) the near unprecedented market crash of 2008 is entirely to blame for the pension crisis, with stocks losing half their value and Jacksonville property valuations falling to levels insufficient for generating sufficient revenue; and 4) mismanagement of the pension fund by its managers and board led to both weak performance and waste of resources.

Pension Holiday.  A pension holiday “never happened,” says Delaney. While both JCCI and the PFPF frequently point to an actuarial table published by JCCI (frequently referred to as “Exhibit A” by both JCCI and Keane), Delaney has no way of digesting the numbers.  Delaney doesn’t know where the numbers used for Exhibit A come from, he says, but it appears the authors mixed and matched numbers into “combined rates” and “budgeted rates” in ways never actually used by city budget managers in practice.

While the supposed “pension holiday” occurred mostly prior to Delaney’s time in office–the table is still completely inaccurate, he says.  While it is true that Delaney spent less on government during his tenure–achieving a 10% tax cut over time while actually increasing benefits in the 2000 Settlement Agreement–he did so only by first reducing starting pay for city employees by 3% and reducing the overall number of city employees by about one third.  This produced “compounded savings” over many years, generating far more in savings than paying for employee benefits.  This fact never gets reported in revisitations of fiscal Jacksonville during his tenure as mayor and he finds that frustrating.  In addition, retrospectives on the pension debt also fail to adequately capture how large the pension fund reserves really were relative to taxation and property values, he says –and that it was Keane who offered access to these reserves as part of the restated settlement agreements of 2000 – 2001. Today he feels some salaries at the top are too high and that these disproportionately exacerbate pension debt, but that overall some salaries at the bottom are probably too low.

Sit Down with PFPF. In the current dispute, a major contention of both FOP and the PFPF is that pension benefits need to be negotiated with the Pension Fund and not the FOP.  On WJCT, Delaney explained in an exchange with Tad Delegal– Jacksonville FOP’s former lead attorney–that while he never negotiated pension benefits formally at the FOP table, they would simply move out in the hall to discuss it because the membership was essentially exactly the same.  While legally they are separate bodies, the FOP and PFPF “speak with one voice” and have literally almost 100% overlap in membership. “The membership of the FOP always knows exactly what’s in the PFPF benefits package and you’re talking to the same people.”  While both sides may try to use semantics for tactical advantage, Delaney explained it really doesn’t change the bargaining position of the City–which in the end still has to find the right balance of pay/benefits the market commands to keep employees.

Delaney said if he were mayor today he would sit down with the Pension Fund to negotiate benefits and sees Keane as a “deal maker” who can be worked with.  Regarding the negotiations while he was mayor, Delaney explained “I wasn’t going to go back and forth for separate conversations about all of that.  When we left the pension was fully funded and they were pretty happy with the package.  But we’d cut taxes and the size of the city payroll by one third without a single layoff, through attrition and efficiencies. So we more than paid for all that with savings.”

Millage Rate. “I don’t think the millage rate is necessarily too low,” said Delaney.  “If people want to raise taxes for social services they need to go out there and make that case.”  But Delaney did express concern that there is a point where any city can become a hollowed out shell and that without adequate funds for things that make a place “livable,” like swingsets and parks and libraries they start to suffer.

Mismanagement of the fund.  As Delaney sees it, John Keane has done a good job managing the pension and notes that PFPF is under certain restrictions in terms of the kinds of investments it can make by law. He notes, however, that Keane has inaccurately promoted the notion of a “pension holiday” in public, but ultimately thinks of Keane as a deal maker who can be worked with.  Delaney wouldn’t shy away from talking to the Pension Fund for resolution of the benefits dispute, but notes that reform of current benefits structure is going to be a necessary part of successfully resolving Jacksonville’s pension crisis. As he said on WJCT, Delaney believes the crisis is really the result of the market crash. It’s counter-productive now to point fingers and we really should get to work.

Hallett’s Take. Get Smart: Jacksonville Cannot Exclusively Prosecute or Police its Way Out of Poverty.  President Delaney is extraordinarily well-qualified to address the complexities of Jacksonville’s pension crisis in a comprehensive way, something that he believes has not been fully achieved in most journalistic accounts of the issue nor in several policy papers exploring the topic.  Having served two terms as Jacksonville’s mayor (from 1996 – 2003),  a stint as the City’s top lawyer and Chief General Counsel, not to mention Chief of Staff to his predecessor Mayor Ed Austin (under whose tenure most of the supposed pension holiday took place)–Delaney’s perspective is literally incomparable.

But I disagree about the millage rate.  Jacksonville’s millage rate is too low and has long been too low, not only in comparison to peer cities in the state–but in regard to the numerous risk factors facing the City in terms of concentrated poverty, crimes of violence and homicide, the proliferation of firearms, education failure and family breakdown. Jacksonville’s main problem has not been a lack of fiscal austerity, but a lack of generosity.  Long term, intervention programs ARE CHEAPER AND MORE EFFECTIVE than harsh punishment and incarceration. And because children are incredibly resilient, programs far cheaper than incarceration really can turn children around.

In sum, Jacksonville chronically fails to meet the needs of its own citizens, a pathology I ultimately ascribe to lingering institutional racism. Jacksonville’s most blighted, challenged neighborhoods are disproportionately black, containing literally tens of thousands of children living in poverty and relative political and social isolation. In response, Jacksonville currently leads the state in prosecuting children as adults and in rates of adult homicide–unlike, Miami, for example, which in response to similar problems established the Miami Children’s Trust to address similar issues. Instead, Jacksonville currently incarcerates five times more children than Miami-Dade county. For deeper exploration of that pernicious cycle, see the earlier Jacksonville Justice Project post.  And I’m not advocating some large tax increase, but suggesting that matching citizens’ needs to a millage rate more on a par with cities facing far fewer challenges is long overdue. It’s also about fundamental fairness to men and women of JSO –who do not get social security–and who serve Jacksonville citizens in crisis on a daily basis.  Reform is necessary, all agree. Let’s make it happen.

2011_MillageRates

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“Human Rights Violations of Children: Duval Leads Florida”

By Michael Hallett

I recently sat down with David Utter of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to discuss the history and mission of his organization and its concerns about criminal justice  in Duval County.  SPLC has taken special interest in Duval, given that it leads the nation in prosecuting children as adults and that the solid majority of these children are African-American. Florida has long led the nation in trying children as adults and, today, Duval leads Florida.  As Utter reports, the oft-quoted mantra “adult time for adult crime,” does not even characterize what’s actually happening in Duval: over half the children transferred to adult court in 2011 were facing charges for non-violent crimes. 

HARSH PUNISHMENT OF JUVENILES BACKFIRES

Unfortunately, prosecuting children as adults has not only failed to produce the promised results of less crime and lower recidivism–massive evidence shows that juvenile incarceration makes kids worse.  Juvenile incarceration completes rather than alters their course, right into adult criminality. Unfortunately, Duval juveniles were five times more likely to be committed to prison that juveniles in Miami-Dade and over half were transferred to adult court for non-violent crimes in 2011.

Time and again in criminal justice, the US has proven that “getting tough” on crime is a too simplistic solution that fails as policy and costs taxpayers big.  Even conservative organizations such as “Right on Crime” now recognize that failed corrections policy simply amounts to “big government.”  As Pew documents, moreover, high recidivism–not deterrence or rehabilitation–characterizes America’s offender population. 67.5% of offenders are rearrested within three years and over 50% re-incarcerated within five.  Long prison terms only further disables prisoners and makes them worse. The vast majority of citizens in America’s prisons come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, broken families, and school systems unable to educate them. America’s prisons are, in fact, sources of violence and dysfunction–not the answer to it.

Jacksonville has not failed to rebuild its communities for lack of austerity–but a lack of generosity. Jacksonville has failed to build an adequate civic infrastructure adequate to meeting the needs of the citizens who actually live here.  Instead, Jacksonville has sought to prosecute its way out of poverty while systematically underfunding intervention and treatment, which of course as a policy continues to fail miserably.

PROSECUTING OUR WAY OUT OF POVERTY: “IT’S A SCAM”

Follow the Money. As Mr Utter points out in the above video, there is a pernicious fiscal incentive for state bureaucracies and even non-profit organizations that must be directly confronted:  In the dead of night–with stunning parallels to the tactics employed in the effort to privatize Florida’s adult prisonsFL Senate Bill 2112 paved the way for Florida Sheriff’s Association to enable county sheriffs to take over management of juvenile prisons. Doing so amounts to a financial windfall for county sheriffs departments.

ALTERNATIVES TO JUVENILE INCARCERATION CHEAPER AND MORE EFFECTIVE

SPLC is working in Jacksonville on the formation of the Jacksonville Juvenile Justice Coalition.  Alternatives to incarcerating juveniles have been proven more effective while costing tax payers less. This is group of concerned citizens and has four broad goals, as reflected in its mission statement:

The Jacksonville Juvenile Justice Coalition seeks reform of policies that objectively result in the harmful criminalization of children. The JJJC is focused on confronting a range of current policies, including:

1) Education practices that prioritize arrest of students for minor incidents;

2) Juvenile justice system practices that emphasize (indeed privilege) incarceration or custodial detention of children;

3) The preferential use of juvenile prisons in place of proven therapeutic alternatives to incarceration;  

4) The transfer of children into adult criminal courts and prisons.

I’ll announce new meetings of the Coalition on this page; just sign up for the news feed for email notification and for new posts.

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The 904 Project: Exploring Jacksonville Violence

By Michael Hallett.

Documenting Jacksonville’s high violence rate is a discursive struggle. Many in the city don’t want to admit it–and officials constantly overtly deny it.  While COJ has long been “Florida’s Murder Capital,” the city loathes the title–given to COJ by the Florida Times Union, first in a 2005 story documenting violence in Florida’s largest cities.  It quite reasonably set the threshold as urban cities in Florida larger than 500,000 residents. We  used the same threshold, declining for reasons of validity to compare Jacksonville to rural Escambia County, for example.

The 904 Project explores both actual rates of violence as well as Jacksonville’s conversation about the problem in local media. In addition to leading the state in rate of homicide, the project revealed Jacksonville has double the state average percentage of violent crime committed with firearms.  The project was funded with a Presidential Scholar’s Grant from the Community Foundation in Jacksonville.

In this project we partnered with Emmy Award winning journalist Melissa Ross.  Here is a link to a short video on The 904 Project.  And another leading to the data.

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