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Calls For Juvenile Justice Reform Grow In Florida


The calls for juvenile justice reform in Florida are  growing, as advocates turn to research to prove that more robust juvenile diversion programs for first-time offenders can prevent kids from dropping out of school. 

The local interfaith coalition ICAREis one of the local advocates pushing diversion, not jail, for juvenile first-time offenders.

They say such an approach is especially needed in Duval County, where one in three high school kids don't make it to graduation.

Over the past 12 months Duval County had 774 minors arrested for a 1st time misdemeanor.

Less than half of that group was provided a civil citation or other diversion program. 

"The key for Jacksonville’s leaders is that they do not need to pass a law - all they need to do is agree that all first time misdemeanants be provided with an opportunity for civil citation or some other diversion program, preferably one that does not embrace programmatic elements long disproven, such as Scared Straight," says attorney David Utter of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is touting its“Roadmap to System Excellence,”a plan to improve the state’s juvenile justice system. "We released the first draft last fall and traveled the state to meet with editorial boards, stakeholders and the public to get feedback on the draft. We will be releasing the next draft, which tripled in size, in the coming weeks," says Meghan Speakes Collins, Communications Director for the FDJJ.

According to the department's statistics:

  • Commitments to low and moderate risk facilities have dropped 62%;
  • First-time misdemeanor arrests have dropped 29%;
  • School-based arrests have dropped 28%;
  • Delinquency arrests have dropped 23%; and
  • Admissions to secure detention have dropped 17%.
Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.