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First Coast Juvenile Arrests Drop By 35 Percent Over 5 Years

State Attorney Melissa Nelson is credited with expanding diversion tactics that keep juvenile offenders out of the criminal justice system.

Fewer teens and kids are being arrested in Florida than at any point in the past 43 years, according to state data released Monday by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

In Northeast Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, the number of juvenile arrests has dropped by 35 percent in the last five years alone.

Jacksonville-based Public Defender Charlie Cofer says he credits local State Attorney Melissa Nelson for expanding the use of citations, which keeps child offenders out of the criminal justice system.  

“And we’ve not seen that increase in recidivism, which a lot of people feared if you expanded the scope of them,” he said.

The citation program allows kids to be diverted to neighborhood advisory boards or teen court instead of going through the criminal justice system.

“It’s done a lot in terms of my staffing of the courts because they’ve been able to reduce the juvenile courts down to one juvenile delinquency judge,” Cofer said.

Explore the state's interactive juvenile justice statistics here

There were just over 2,700 arrests of young people last year, down from more than 4,100 in 2013.

The majority of the drop was in the number of minor offenses, including assault, drug charges, and vandalism.

Cofer said that reflects the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office recent focus on combatting violent gang activity, with fewer resources going to policing things like petit theft or “these minor offenses that you see juveniles engage in.”

Over the same five-year period, the number of arrests for felony offenses held pretty constant: They were down just 4 percent from 2013 to 2017.

Contact Jessica Palombo at 904-358-6315, or on Twitter at @JessicaPubRadio.

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP