Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 11:03 p.m.

For many troubled girls in the Gainesville area, the Pace Center is a last stop for redemption, an opportunity to turn their lives around before they become ensnared in the criminal justice system.

But for Gov. Jeb Bush, the girls of Pace are just throwaways - nameless, faceless young people who can sink or swim on their own. And if they end up sinking, well, Florida has plenty of cells waiting for them.

Thus is the sad, illogical, compassionless reasoning behind the Bush budget: Prevention programs like the 19 Pace centers around the state - programs that are intended to keep at-risk youngsters out of detention - are expendable in the name of cost-cutting.

But detention is still Job No. 1 for the Department of Juvenile Justice, and there will be plenty of money to lock 'em up.

And never mind that it costs about $13,000 a year for Pace to salvage a young life, while the cost of warehousing an "incorrigible" juvenile offender is $43,000.

Talk about a penny-wise, pound-foolish public policy.

Pace succeeds by giving troubled girls the sort of intensive, one-on-one attention and care they often cannot get in the public schools.

"I just hope they realize the ramifications on the nitty-gritty, down-to-earth, one-on-one interaction that (the girls) need," Gainesville Pace teacher Noni Jones told The Sun last week.

"If not for the special attention we can give them here, they fall through the cracks."

Alas, Gov. Bush's "special attention" is reserved for the special interests that bankrolled his campaigns and expect a return on their investments in the form of tax breaks and other party favors.

The girls of Pace can fall through the cracks for all our governor cares.

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