(1) INTENT.—It is the intent of the Legislature that mandatory literacy programs for juvenile offenders committed by the court and placed in residential commitment programs be established. Juvenile offenders shall have the opportunity to achieve reading and writing skills as a means to further their educational and vocational needs and to assist them in discontinuing a life of crime. The literacy programs shall be of high quality, targeted to the juvenile offender’s assessed ability and needs, and use appropriate instructional technology and qualified educational instructors. The programs shall be offered in each residential commitment program operated by or under contract with the department and shall consist of standardized outcomes so that an offender who is transferred to another facility may be able to continue his or her literacy education with minimal disruption.
(2) JUVENILE OFFENDER LITERACY PROGRAMS.—The Department of Education, in consultation with the Department of Juvenile Justice, shall identify and, contingent upon specific appropriations, implement and administer juvenile offender literacy programs for each residential commitment program operated by or under contract with the department. These programs shall promote the reading and writing skills of juvenile offenders.
(a)1. An offender 16 years of age or younger who meets the criteria of this section shall be required to participate in a literacy program.
2. An offender 17 years of age or older who is admitted to a residential commitment program on or after July 1, 1998, shall be required to participate in a literacy program. An offender 17 years of age or older who was committed to a residential commitment program before July 1, 1998, may voluntarily participate in a program if the offender otherwise meets the requirements for eligibility.
(b) An offender is eligible to participate in a program if the offender is unable to read and write at a sixth-grade level and is not exempt under subsection (4).
(c) In addition to any other requirements determined by the department, a literacy program shall:
1. Provide for the participation of an offender who may not attain a sixth-grade or higher reading and writing level due to a medical, developmental, or learning disability but who can reasonably be expected to benefit from a literacy program.
2. Require an eligible offender to participate in a minimum of 240 hours of education per year unless the offender attains a sixth-grade or higher reading and writing level or is released from the commitment facility.
3. Require counseling for an offender who has not achieved a sixth-grade or higher reading and writing level after participation in a program. The counseling shall address the benefits of continuing in the program.
4. Include a system of incentives to encourage and reward the performance of an offender in a program.
5. Include a system of disincentives that may include disciplinary action if an offender refuses or intentionally fails to participate in good faith in a program.
6. Provide for reports to be maintained in the offender’s records and forwarded to the appropriate educational facility upon the offender’s release from the commitment facility.
(3) INITIAL ASSESSMENT.—When an offender is admitted to a residential commitment facility, the department or a provider under contract with the department shall immediately assess whether the offender has achieved a sixth-grade or higher reading and writing level. An assessment may be conducted at a juvenile assessment center as provided in s. 985.135 as a part of the intake process. If the department or a provider determines that an offender has not achieved a sixth-grade or higher reading and writing level, the offender shall participate in a program if the offender meets the criteria for participation.
(4) OFFENDERS EXEMPT FROM PARTICIPATION.—If an offender is not reasonably expected to benefit from a program as a result of a medical, developmental, or learning disability, the offender may not be required to participate in a program. The determination that an offender should be exempt from a program must be made by an appropriate psychologist, psychiatrist, or physician.
(5) EVALUATION AND REPORT.—The department, in consultation with the Department of Education, shall develop and implement an evaluation of the literacy program in order to determine the impact of the programs on recidivism. The department shall submit an annual report on the implementation and progress of the programs to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by January 1 of each year.