Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Lawmakers Study Neurology Along With New Juvenile Justice Policy Ideas, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

“Why do most adolescents drive like they’re missing part of their brain? Because they are,” said Elizabeth Cauffman, professor of Psychology & Social Behavior and Education at the University of California, Irvine.

She was speaking to a group of state lawmakers, staff and others at a forum at the National Conference of State Legislatures summit in Atlanta on Aug. 14. The forum topic was using brain science to craft new policies.

The specific pieces that are missing can have much to do with judgment, impulse control and other behavioral aspects of interest to people who work with juveniles.

Physically, the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain right behind the forehead — is not fully formed until about age 25. That’s the part that handles things like impulse control and emotion, Cauffman said.

According to her research, the brain is still pruning away indirect, inefficient paths among synapses. And those neural pathways are still growing the special cells that speed information among nodes. Additionally, dopamine, the chemical that contributes to happiness, is at its greatest circulation during the late adolescent years.

DJJ chief: Funding woes could lead to shut down of juvenile detention centers, The Florida Current

Thanks to a court ruling and new federal guidelines for Medicaid payments, the Department of Juvenile Justice could face a $54.5 million budget shortfall this year, potentially leading to the closing of some juvenile detention centers.

Most of the cash shortage comes from a ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeal in June siding with counties disputing payments to DJJ for juvenile detention costs. The ruling stated DJJ was overbilling counties by misinterpreting state law and created a $35.5 million shortfall into its budget.

The rest of the shortfall stems from new guidelines from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services prohibiting federal matching grant money for Medicaid services for juveniles in residential commitment centers operated by DJJ. The guidelines also came down in June, but the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget passed by lawmakers in early May was counting on those federal funds. It means an additional $19 million hole in the department’s budget.

DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters wrote to Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders Aug. 1, alerting them to the possible shortfall. She suggests putting off “non-critical” contracts and the early release of general revenue and dedicated trust funds to minimize the shortfall in juvenile detention costs, reducing the shortfall to $18.4 million and allowing the Legislature to address the shortfall in the 2014 legislative session. But even those measures would still leave the department needing a loan if county payments fell.

Without a loan, DJJ would have to start closing some juvenile detention centers.

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