Floridian Youth Diversion Programs: A New Approach to Restorative Justice 

Abstract

 

Floridian Youth Diversion Programs are programs that are provided throughout the state of Florida for youth education and rehabilitation after a juvenile has committed a crime. Diversion programs are alternatives to the formal justice system and allow youth the freedoms needed to become better citizens. This research discusses the necessity of youth driven programs that help build vital life skills that can be used to reduce existing recidivism rates. The youth arrests for minor crimes and criminal recidivism rates for juveniles must be reduced throughout the state of Florida. The aim of this study is to deliver new policy options that can help alleviate the current strains on the youth educational system and diversion programs.

Data driven policy implementation and standards for youth-based life skills education are key factors that will help youth develop throughout their lives. Special attention to mental health, crisis, trauma and anger management can be diversion programs that can be developed throughout the state of Florida. Diversion programs are a new approach to restorative justice for the youth affected and our local communities. Public safety and the development of our Floridian youth are vital for the future success of Florida.

I. Problem Statement

The purpose of this research is to understand how Florida Youth Diversion Programs address initial referral intervention. Risk assessments for Floridian youth use intervention methods to ensure the Department of Juvenile Justice is detaining the right youth population. (FLDJJ, 2022) Many initial assessments of youth crimes happen upon arrest and there is a lack of intervention that allows youth to be referred to rehabilitative diversion programs. For instance, a law enforcement officer may get a call for youth in an assault/battery or burglary crime which results in the law enforcement officer to arrest, charge, and intake the juvenile. Although Florida diversion programs are intended to rehabilitate youth from committing crimes for the second time, there are still youths that are caught committing crimes again.

Significance of the problem

The focus of this policy proposal is when Floridian juvenile justice system decides when to divert youth to a diversion program. Diversion programs are designed to reduce youth crime rates by rehabilitating and educating youth who are not processed through the formal justice system. The intent is to increase the rates of youth diverted from the formal juvenile justice system for minor crimes. Early intervention is when the law enforcement agency serves a civil citation before a first charge, or a secondary education school refers a youth to a diversion program for an on or off school grounds crime. In 2021 the Department of Juvenile Justice reported that statewide law enforcement agencies arrested 31,612 juvenile youths and only 5,994 were processed to a diversion program. (FLDJJ, 2021) Certain minor crime arrests can include 1,343 misdemeanor assault/battery, 622 felony burglary and 482 felony aggravated assault/battery. (FLDJJ, 2021) Individuals who were initially charged with these crimes were referred to a Florida diversion program where they are subject to probation and sanctions. Early intervention and rehabilitation for Florida's youth must be the primary method of reducing the rate of youth committing crimes.

II. Background and Literature Review

History of Diversion Programs

Diversion programs are alternatives to the formal juvenile justice system for youth who have been charged with a minor crime. (FLDJJ, 2022) Every youth under the age of 18 charged with a crime in Florida is referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice. A juvenile referral is similar to an arrest in the adult criminal justice system. Diversion is a method that allows youth to remain in their home community without being committed to a juvenile incarceration center. Florida Youth Diversion Programs focuses on educating young people of all races and backgrounds of crime intervention and supplies rehabilitation for juveniles, victims and their families.

The rates of statewide intake arrests for juveniles have decreased steadily since fiscal year 2016-2017 with 64,919 youth, 2017-2018 with 59,589 youth, 2018-2019 with 54,878 youth, 2019-2020 with 45,449 youth and 2020-2021 with 31,612 youth. (FLDJJ, 2021) Since the rate of arrests intake has decreased, the rate of diversion youth has decreased steadily FY2016-17 with 16,122 youth, FY2017-18 with 14,816 youth, FY2018-19 with 11,651 youth, FY2019-20 with 6,683 youth and FY2020-21 with 5,994 youth. (FLDJJ, 2021) There is still a relatively high number of youths being arrested in their communities for minor crimes and diverted from the formal judicial system to a diversion program.

Intervention programs are used in secondary education and provide additional assistance to our youth by teaching awareness. Many secondary education institutions use school counselors that help specific students talk about their lives at home, after-school programs and in the community. Intervention happens when school teachers and community members find a young person that needs immediate mental health treatment. Intervention can end in a peaceful resolution of dispute between family members or community members.

Juvenile delinquency follows a trajectory like that of normal adolescent development. (Youth.gov, 2022) Early intervention is needed to create a cost-effective place to stop the “cradle to prison pipeline”. Early intervention analysis can determine the youth’s assets and resilience to delinquent behavior and longstanding disruptive behavior. (Youth.gov, 2022) In 2001, the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) study found that the total benefits of effective intervention programs were greater than their costs. Delinquency-prevention programs can save taxpayers seven to ten dollars for every dollar invested, primarily due to reductions in the amount spent on incarceration. (Youth.gov, 2022)

1,909 children are arrested each day in America – one every 45 seconds nationwide. (CDF, 2022) More than 530,000 children were arrested in the United States in 2019. (CDF, 2022) Although youth arrests and detentions have been declining overall, 43,580 children were held in residential placement on an average night in 2017 and extreme racial disparities have persisted. (CDF, 2022) The alarming statistics that have been collected nationwide can show that Floridians must take new measures into diverting children from the formal judicial system. Youth prisons are often harmful, large, outdated, punitive places in which children are locked in secure facilities without the compassion, services, and support they need. While incarcerated, children are often provided with inadequate education instruction, health care, and counseling services that put them at greater risk of maltreatment, physical and psychological abuse, sexual assault, and suicide. (CDF, 2022)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Figure 1.

In figure 1, the youth can gain a civil citation when in contact with law enforcement. Often, they are taken into custody for questioning, and they can go through different avenues that lead back to law abiding civil society. The youth can be sent to diversion programs, adult court, or juvenile detention alternative initiative (JDAI) as an alternative to the typical justice system methods. The section we want to focus on is the juvenile diversion programs and how they can help youth build their life path.

 

Juvenile Diversion Programs

Types of Florida Juvenile Diversion Programs

  • Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program – civil citation

  • Arbitration – before the petition is filed

  • Juvenile Diversion Alternative Program (JDAP)

  • The Walker Plan – After the petition is filed

  • The Sex Walker Plan – For sexually motivated crimes by a juvenile against a younger child

  • Juvenile Drug Court

Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program - Civil Citations

The Florida civil citations are used to help juveniles that have been charged with a misdemeanor to be processed in a system that teaches them rehabilitation skills for our local communities. Florida Statute 985.12 gives law enforcement authorization to issue the youth a civil citation in lieu of arrest.  Youth will receive a risk assessment and may be referred to services such as counseling, treatment, and other proper community resources. The Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program (JAAP) Civil Citation Program works with community partners in the effort to reduce juvenile crime and to provide services for at-risk youth. (13th Circuit, 2022)

The JAAP became effective August 1, 2018, in the state of Florida. (Sammis Law Firm, 2022) During the diversion program the youth will have to discuss the seriousness of the incident, the consequences of the child’s actions, insight into victim empathy, and verbalize responsibility for the actions. (Sammies Law Firm, 2022) For instance, in the 13th judicial circuit of Florida there were JAAP offense civil citation referrals given from charges like battery, battery- domestic violence, criminal mischief, petit theft, possession of marijuana, resisting officer without violence in February 2022. (13th Circuit, 2022) The JAAP uses law enforcement agencies and schools to work together to determine the number of referrals given from the community and the school district.

Arbitration

Arbitration before the petition is filed is a type of diversion program that is usually referred to the parties of the conflict dispute. Arbitration is a consensual procedure in which a dispute is sent, by agreement of the parties, to one or more arbitrators who make a binding decision on the dispute. (WIPO, 2022) Juvenile Arbitration is a meeting between the defendant, parent/guardian, and the victim with a JDP (Juvenile Diversion Program) Case Manager to discuss the offense and to form a contract. At the end of Arbitration, a contract will be signed to include all the sanctions the defendant will need to complete. If the sanctions are completed, the victim compensated by restitution, the defendant will avoid formal prosecution in juvenile court. However, if the juvenile does not follow the required sanctions the referral will be sent back to the Office of the State Attorney for prosecution. (13th Circuit, 2022)

The problem with arbitration diversion programs is that the child must waive the right to a speedy trial, admit wrongdoing or “take responsibility” for the allegation, complete conditions the diversion program deems appropriate child can include completing counseling, community service and writing letters of apology, agree that information about the allegations and the child’s admission can be sent to the child’s private or public school so that the school can take action it deems appropriate suspension or expulsion (after an expulsion hearing). (Sammie Law Firm, 2022) In many of the juvenile court systems in the 13th judicial circuit even after the release form is signed, the State Attorney’s office arbitration case worker will write a letter to the child’s school telling the school exactly what the child has been charged with, the admit of guilt, avoiding an adjunction of delinquency by entering the arbitration program.

The unfortunate negative consequences of telling the school what the child did in a criminal offense puts a blatant target on their back which can result in misjudgment and negative emotional labeling. The school receives the letter (even if the alleged contact occurred in the community off school grounds and did not involve another student) the school is free to take any action it considers proper including suspension or expulsion. (Sammie Law Firm, 2022) The issue with the school disciplinary system and arbitration is that the child has no self-determination in the future of their academic and personal life because the choices are left to the school principal or counsel and the qualified arbitrator who writes the settlement agreement.

Juvenile Diversion Alternative Program (JDAP)

Juvenile Diversion Alternative Program (JDAP) is a diversion program that provides services based on the needs of the youth and their family. The standard length of time for youth participation is about two to four months depending on found needs. Case planning is focused on a 60-day (about 2 months) or 90 –120-day (about 4 months) schedule for completion of the program. (BaysKids, 2022) The services provided by JDAP help manage the juvenile throughout their transition from offender to proper youth activities.

The Walker Plan/ Sex Walker Plan

In another aspect of diversion youth can experience the Walker Plan which is an agreement between the State Attorney, youth, and parents where a case is dismissed after successful completion of the sanctions. (FLDJJ, 2022) The Walker Plan is an example of a youth that was charged and a petition for a case was filed with the judicial court system, yet all parties agree to allow the youth to walk without permanent charges. The Sex Walker Plan has some fundamental issues with the child’s future educational opportunities because the school officials are notified and like arbitration the juveniles with sexual misconduct diversion may limit their academic career goals like universities and colleges.

Accusations of sexual misconduct can involve minor and innocent behavior like curiosity that the child exhibits during their first experiences with sexual intercourse. Many people refer to this type of curiosity as “playing doctor” where the child tries to understand the human anatomy. In serious cases sexual intercourse can involve violence where children begin acting out because they have been a victim of sexual abuse. (Sammis Law Firm, 2022) Juvenile justice must attain the resolution of these accusations and be attentive of the children’s future while conducting their diversion program requirements.

Juvenile Drug Court

Due to the growing number of juvenile arrests and drug abuse, the Juvenile Drug Court (JDC) was established in January 2001. The purpose of the JDC is to treat the juvenile with therapeutic approaches instead of the traditional and confrontational juvenile justice process. JDC is a voluntary six- to twelve-month, court-supervised program for nonviolent juveniles charged with a crime between the ages of 13 to 17 who suffer from alcohol and/or drug use. (11th Circuit, 2022) JDC is based on the 16 Strategies in Practice for Juvenile Drug courts and the main components are intensive court supervision, target case management, immediate access to treatment and comprehensive system of rewards and sanctions. (11th Circuit, 2022)

Although the goal of the JDC is to reduce juvenile re-arrest rates by providing the necessary recovery tools and community support, the JDC does not increase the number of formal warnings, civil citations, and referrals to a substance abuse medical center. The number of formal warnings should be the first plan of action that a law enforcement officer gives when encountering a juvenile with a low amount of illegal drugs. Civil citations can be a type of ticket and formal verbal reprimand that the law enforcement officer gives to the juvenile which can include contacting the legal guardian. Referrals to a substance abuse medical center can be help a juvenile with a large amount of drugs and a clear substance abuse problem can help alleviate the stress caused by the formal judicial court system.

III. Methodology & Evaluative Criteria

This study will collect this data from other states that are implementing these plans and determine the progress of current gun policies. The Floridian Youth Diversion Program policy will propose alternative policies for recidivism youth, intervention programs and rehabilitation.

Political Feasibility

Although this type of gun strategy has not been directly discussed in both the House and Senate of Florida, a solid platform of information has been created that can be built through proper legislation in upcoming Florida Congressional general sessions. Political feasibility regards the ability for policies to pass legislation and become implemented in our Florida communities. Since there has been an ongoing disparity of policy reforms that manage diversion programs for Floridian youth. We can successfully project new methods of juvenile diversion if the Florida Congress enacts new legislation policies and programs. Both major political parties, Republicans and Democrats would be willing to cooperate and make legislative changes to diversion programs that can help juveniles.

The Florida House Bill 885 – Juvenile Justice Programs and Detention in 2021 was presented to retain the program “Accountability and Program Support” within the DJJ. This bill required that the alternative consequences component and principle sanctions reflected the seriousness of the violation, assessed criminogenic needs and risks of the child, child’s age and maturity level, and how effective the sanction or incentive will be in moving the child to compliant behavior. (FL Senate, 2021) The bill also consulted with the Florida Department of Education which provided a alternative model and funding educational services for youth in detention and residential facilities. The model included special education and career and technical education services, transition planning, educational program accountability standards, research based best practices for educating justice-involved youth, recruiting, hiring and training of teachers. (FL Senate, 2021) By overwhelming majority the vote for the provisions passed the Senate 40 to 0 and the House 119 to 0. (FL Senate, 2021)

Practical Accountability

Currently in Florida court systems, independent businesses and nonprofit organizations, we have many diversion programs across the state that take youth in and help them rebuild the necessary components of their lives. For instance, youth can go into mental health therapy, substance and narcotics abuse training programs, and find new home and job opportunities that help them become better citizens. Local education agencies (LEAs) have been implementing a zero-tolerance policy for children and teens that commit on-grounds and off – grounds crimes.

Pre-trial intervention programs standard conditions require to report monthly to the department of probation, at attend school and/or work, a minimum of 50 hours of community service, no possession of firearms or weapons, monthly fee for the cost of supervision, and additional court fees, and payment of restitution if applicable. (Pumphrey, 2022) First-time third-degree felony offenders go through a more intensive, expensive and time-consuming intervention program than the misdemeanor program (MIP). The felony intervention program is an 18-month long program that is supervised by the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC).

Misdemeanor Intervention Program for first-time offenders that can be completed within 3-6 months with proper monitoring, fees, classes and /or community service. (Pumphrey, 2022) For instance, if a person has been charged with a misdemeanor of shoplifting or petit theft, the defendant must agree to attend classes on how to prevent future shoplifting acts. (Pumphrey, 2022) If a person is charged with assault or battery, they may have to attend anger management classes. If a person is charged with resisting violence, they may have to write an apology to the law enforcement officer, and complete 24 hours of community service. If a person has been charged with lewd and lascivious acts, the standard terms they must follow are STD screenings, staying away from the location of the offense, and 16 hours of community service.

Support by Stakeholders and Community Members

Diversion programs help everyone in the community feel safe without the pressures of being incarcerated. Youth who have been arrested initially and charged with a misdemeanor will have the stress of proving to their case worker, lawyers, friends, and family that they have started to change their ways. Our stakeholders in government organizations like the Department of Children and Families (DCF), Department of Education, law enforcement agencies, and Department of Health (DOH) have the responsibility to keep the public safe and help our children learn a new pathway in life that can be challenging for parents to teach at home. The investment our government agencies supply is critical for the future of our Florida communities. Every aspect of our mental, social, and physical health must be addressed while we interact with community members and conduct our daily lives. Stakeholders in nonprofit organizations need the most help because these organizations rely heavily on donated money, food, water, temporary shelter, clothes, and health products.

 Many of the nonprofit and for-profit organizations have invested their time and skills to combating the supplemental symptoms of our society which are illegal drug usage like marijuana prescription drug medicines, and other highly addictive street drugs. These stakeholders must be retrained in the new methods to help highly addicted or suicidal children and teens. Training methods must be conducted every month to keep a fresh outlook on our general society to prevent and rehabilitate the children and teens suffering from negative societal symptoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 2. Scale: 0 Not possible, 1 low possibility, 2 average possibility, 3 high possibility

In table 2, the policy options and evaluative criteria for each policy are listed in ranking order. The supportive data collected in the literature review has developed each policy option and placed a number scaled between 0 and 3 for each.

 The third policy option for a statewide pathway program ranks the highest in the evaluative criteria because it shows the necessity of a bipartisan political agenda, practical accountability of justice system personnel and secondary education systems, and support by private stakeholders and community members.

IV. Policy Options

Diversion programs are places where youth of any race can be accepted and gain the opportunity to be fed a hot meal, learn lessons from case workers, law enforcement workers can supply their services and college students gain volunteer hours. Focusing on prevention methods will help Floridian youth get back on the right track of life, school, and work if they have been subjected to violence, substance abuse, or mental health issues. Many of these diversion programs will help young people gain medicines that will help them feel better and focus on their future. Key methods of diversion programs can be school counselors who speak to all children every day to assess their student body. Eliminate drug use for students and help them when parents have substance abuse problems. Teach students how to overcome mental health issues when they feel like they are triggered from interacting with their peers and other school personnel.

Intervention

Methods on when to intervene with a student or community youth that have shown signs that they may need help must be adjusted to the new axioms of modern young people. Young people's culture is rapidly changing from television, internet, cell phones, and social interactions. Therefore, we have an obligation to our communities to seek out new ways to extinguish the rapid substance abuse cases, domestic abuse and eventually major crimes. Florida law enforcement has a rule called “see something, say something”, which means that if you see a suspicious person possibly at risk or going to commit a crime to call your local law enforcement agency to get assistance.

For example, if there is a teen who seems troubled and has a poor record in his academic studies then that teen should be sent to the counselor's office to talk about any problems going on at home. Counselors must be trained in techniques that help find children or teens who have been suffering from key problems at home. Many children get their mental health assistance from public or private school counselors that work with students on their “free period”, before or after school with issues that they have at home. Unfortunately, many parents don’t have affordable metal counseling for their children and teens, so school counselors are the family’s primary way of getting their children's thoughts heard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2.

The Civil Citation and Similar Prearrest Diversion Process starts with a youth committing a minor crime like larceny. Larceny is the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession, or constructive possession, of another person. (FDLE, 2022) Types of larceny include pocket-picking, purse-snatching, shoplifting, larceny from motor vehicles, larceny of motor vehicle parts, larceny of bicycles, larceny from buildings, and larceny from any coin-operated machines. (FDLE, 2022) Figure 2 shows when the youth is first charged with a misdemeanor of larceny it is decided by law enforcement to grant the youth a civil citation. If the youth and parent or guardian agree on the civil citation, then arrest forms are held and the diversion process begins. The program assesses the youth and decides intervention, makes referrals to local diversion programs or volunteer organizations for services, or case management. Intervention of family counseling can result in the youth being absent from school or receiving multiple complaints while in childcare. Sanctions for services hours, a formal apology letter, restitution, academic retention and grade monitoring, civil duties and after school activity requirements must be completed by the youth before their successful completion of a diversion program with no juvenile record.

Current Florida Diversion Programs (Updated 11-05-2021) 

  • Mental Health 935 Programs

  • Education 691 Programs

  • Life Skills 660 Programs

  • Other 565 Programs

  • Attitudes and Behaviors 547 Programs

  • Substance Abuse Treatment 522 Programs

  • Crisis 499 Programs

  • Mentoring 453 Programs

  • Trauma 399 Programs

  • Health 381 Programs

  • Job Skills 357 Programs

  • Sport/Rec 202 Programs

  • Sex Abuse (Victim) 113 Programs

  • Sex Abuse (Abuser) 62 Programs

In the State of Florida, there are many diverse types of juvenile diversion programs that are directed towards helping youth rebuild their skills to become hard working members of society. The purpose of these programs is to specifically alleviate the confusion and negative attributes of juvenile offenders by building new skills that can help their long-term development. Current diversion programs that septicity in attitudes and behaviors can help reduce rates of high school students that felt sad or hopeless for two or more weeks in a row. (Florida Health, 2019) Reduces the rate of illegal drugs 19.6 percent of high school students who currently used marijuana. (Florida Health, 2019) High school students who purposefully hurt themselves without wanting to die increased between 2009-2019 from 13.9 percent to 15.8 percent. (Florida Health, 2019) The programs listed in table 1 show how many diversion programs there are in Florida. The behavior and attitude skills needed for youth can be reduced like the students who reported they wanted to purposefully hurt themselves without wanting to die. Programs must be designed to reduce these statistics and keep youth on the right track.

 The significance of these programs across the state is that many are created by private stakeholders and community members dedicated to the development of Floridian youth. Unfortunately, these programs are created by the private stakeholders and community members with limited unified structure that can help project the wide range of Floridian youth. For example, the standardized test for passing a grade level in Florida is called the Floridian Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The FCAT is developed by the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) that makes the tests every year that students across the state must pass in order to graduate to the next grade level. In the Florida youth diversion system, the standardized testing for a juvenile to pass must be updated to the equibalance that each child across the state is learning the standardized test materials to pass with comprehensive abilities taught throughout their diversion sessions. For example, if a child from South Miami were to enter a diversion program on mental health there should be a standardized requirement that can be structured through the FLDJJ system.

Although there is limited information about the standardized testing abilities of juveniles that enter diversion programs either in school or out of school. There is both political feasibility, practical accountability and stakeholders willing to create a standardized test to influence the rehabilitation development of each youth that enters diversion programs. The state is willing to develop innovative programs that help youth every day but there must be a way to statistically project each diversion program’s functions and their abilities to reeducate youth in community-based referrals. Usually, youth must follow the set of court order sanctions or conditions before their release of a diversion program.

Conditions or Sanctions for Youth Diversion

  • Restitution (payment) to the victim(s)

  • No victim contacts

  • Community Service hours

  • Letter of apology to the victim(s)

  • Curfew

  • Forfeiture of driver’s license

  • Avoid contact with co-defendants, friends, or acquaintances who are deemed to be inappropriate associations

  • Referrals to local social service agencies

  • Substance abuse or mental health counseling

It is important for the youth to complete their assigned sanctions during the youth diversion program. These sanctions give youth the reprimand needed to make life corrections through strict and disciplined rule of law. Restitution is a form of payment that is accredited to the victim(s) of the crime, and it is usually mandated through a court order. Instances where the youth must not have physical, phone, or virtual contact with the victim can be due to a serious crime committed that is deemed best not to have any form of communication. Community service hours are needed to rehabilitate the youth without the detention center, generally small crime community service will involve food banks, animal shelters, and other physical labor jobs.             Letter of apology to the victim(s) can be therapeutic in nature and have a stress relieving effect on the youth's mental distress while completing the diversion program. Curfew is mandatory for many youths to be at their home residence by sundown or in the evening time. Curfew can also be applied to a youth’s probationary period near the end of their initial release from a in facility diversion program or day program. Forfeiture of driver’s license can involve a violent crime or certain crimes involving driving while under the influence (DUI) or illegal firearm related crimes. Similarly, avoiding contact with co-defendants, friends, or acquaintances who are deemed to be inappropriate associations is especially important to fully rehabilitate the life of a Floridian youth. Staying away from individuals in a gang-related crime or group of individuals who completed a crime together will help reduce the rate of the youth recommitting another crime.

Social service agencies like mental health therapist, school counselors, community service providers can help the youth gain resources that can improve their livelihoods including career services, education options, food stamps, childcare, healthcare benefits (including dental and eye care), and affordable housing options. Substance abuse or mental health counseling is necessary for crimes that involve illegal drugs. These types of counseling sessions help youth find better ways to fill their time like sports, vocational trades, education, or new jobs.

Mental Health Awareness

Juvenile detention centers also have developed internal programs that mitigate the psychological trauma of violence which reduces the juvenile's recidivism rate. Juvenile recidivism rates are the percentage of juveniles that were incarcerated and returned to incarceration after their first release and recommitted a crime. Juvenile detention centers are facilities that have specialized programs to help juveniles rehabilitate their psychological trauma and return to society mentally healthy after their release. Internal programs include religious church gatherings, prayer and worship, church education, volunteer in and out of the juvenile detention center, one on one meetings with counselors, sports teams for football, basketball, soccer, track and field, cooking and cleaning clothes for daily chores. These programs help juveniles learn new traits that will help them when they are released. The goal of the internal juvenile detention center is to find new ways to help spend their time in a productive manner. Productivity is rewarded and they gain treats for their challenging work throughout the program.

Certain life skills can be psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. They are loosely grouped into three broad categories of skills, including, cognitive skills for analyzing and using information, personal skills for developing personal agency and managing oneself, and inter-personal skills for communicating and interacting effectively with others. (Cassidy, Franco, Meo, 2018) Meaning that mental health awareness can be alleviated by life skills training and advocating “hands-on, real-world learning experiences, increase academic achievement, help students develop stronger ties to their community, enhance students’ appreciation for the natural world, and create a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens”. (Cassidy, Franco, Meo, 2018)

After release, juveniles go through a parole period that updates their parole officer or case manager of their progress adjusting to our community. This research will develop a policy plan that can combat the pressing issues of recidivism rates amongst juveniles and mentally unstable individuals. Studies have shown that young people are exposed to poor mental health and a periodical diagnosis of a mental health illness when answering questions of their personal state of depression, stress, and problems with emotions within the past 30 days (about 4 and a half weeks). The Florida Juvenile Justice Center has been conducting research on the Floridian youth that are self-reported antisocial and have been committed to a juvenile detention center due to a violent crime. Individuals who are self-determined anti-social are more likely to committee a violent crime than the youth that self-reported they were gang affiliated.

Recidivism Rates

Both caution and intervention are significantly more effective in reducing recidivism than traditional justice systems. According to a large body of literature commenting on the negative impact of traditional processing, significant differences in the recidivism rates of youth referred with little police/system contact (e.g., pre-charge) and those referred post-charge should indicate that the further the youth is processed, the greater the likelihood that he or she will reoffend. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013) Different recidivism results occurred when youth were categorized into distinct groups by low, medium, high-risk offenders. The effectiveness of diversion programs targeting medium/high risk offenders did not differ according to referral level (i.e., they were equally effective whether accepting youth pre- or post-charge), programs accepting low-risk youth demonstrated significantly greater effectiveness when accepting them pre-charge than post-charge. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013)

Although low-risk offenders demonstrated significantly greater effectiveness when accepted by a pre-charge than post-charge offense, medium- or high-risk offenders, it is common for these youth to have already had experience with the justice system and could therefore be less affected by official charges. Initial assessment made upon arrest show that Floridian youth are divided into court order frequency which includes, failure to appear, abscond, probable cause, out of county, commitment pending placement, violation of supervised release, contempt of court, violation of probation, gun law, detention status upgrade, traffic, and drug court. (FLDJJ, 2021)

Low-risk youth that were admitted to programs providing the minimum number of services and maximum diversion were most effective. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013) The intervention driven programs for youth were most effective for youth prior to charging and the amount of justice system interaction is limited. Prior charging would include police referral, family/relative referral, community member or teacher referral to a diversion program due to a low-risk crime or violation. Insufficient data was reported to examine the caution programs serving medium/high risk youth were also more effective than intervention programs. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013) Since the target population of intervention programs were medium/high risk youth offenders achieved greater reductions in recidivism than programs targeting low-risk offenders we can compare this with rehabilitation efforts. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013) For instance, youth that are medium-and high-risk offenders are at a greater risk of reoffending and have greater needs that require services. In 2014, within the 1st month post-completion of diversion only 13% of the low-risk recidivists had reoffended, compared to 22% of the moderate risk recidivists, over 1/3 of the moderate-high risk recidivists, and 27% of the high-risk recidivists. (FLDJJ, 2014)

According to the results of Wilson and Hoge, detrimental labeling caused by the criminal justice system and increased association with negative peers cannot entirely account for the effectiveness of programs targeting youth with higher rehabilitation service needs. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013) Yet, providing youth with some form of services contributes to their reduction in recidivism beyond the negative labeling and peer exposure. Intervention programs targeting low-risk youth would have been equally effective to reduce the rate of recidivism between both low and medium/high risk offenders. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013) Based on the study all variables except the specific research design of and sponsorship by a private agency suggest that diversion is significantly more effective than the criminal justice system in reducing recidivism. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013) Sponsorship by a private agency would differentiate from this type of recidivism data because it is outside the public sector criminal justice system.

In recidivism rate there are various independent variables that are accounted for while calculating the predicting adjudication as ward of the delinquent court. Adjudication is a formal judgement on a disputed matter, usually a disposition from juvenile diversion programs. Independent variables including child characteristics, offense characteristics, and risk assessment scores can determine the percentage that youth will recommit crimes. Truancies showed that students who have problems attending school consistently have a 72 percent average and gang involvement a 66 percent predicting after a formal adjudication of delinquent court. Similarly, offenses related to violent crime have a 65 percent likelihood after a adjudication as ward of the delinquent court, or warrant/probation violation have a 99 percent likelihood after Ward of the delinquent court. (Herz, , Ryan, & Bilchik, 2010) These high rates of predictability show that upon the distinctive characteristics that youth build while ward of the delinquent court and through rehabilitation there is still a high chance, they will recommit a crime after completion.

The risk factors fall into five domains: personal characteristics, peer characteristics, school characteristics, family characteristics, and community characteristics. Each was used to study the impact of future offending juveniles. The results are consistent with the broader literature that finds substance abuse and education as key factors related to recidivism. Therefore, youth need stability in their lives with supportive adult and peer relationships, strong educational supports, high-quality health and behavioral health care, and healthy communities that support their positive development. (Herz, , Ryan,  & Bilchik, 2010)

Statewide policy recommendations

Key statewide recommendations for the “Floridian Youth Diversion Programs”.

  1. Life skills programming training for secondary education teachers in school and out of school diversion programs.

  2. Justice system semiannual data collection reviews of court system diversion programs.

  3. Building a pathway program specifically for at risk reoffender Floridian youth

Let’s expand on these statewide recommendations for the “Floridian Youth Diversion Programs”.

Life skills programming

Juvenile offenders lack the academic skills to succeed in life therefore life skills program teach offenders self-development, communication skills, job skills, formal education, interpersonal relationship development, critical thinking styles, stress and anger management as well as many other essential skills. Although the life skills programs in the State of Florida are limited these programs that have been implemented within the last decade are included in the statistical results of juvenile cases intake arrests declining each fiscal year since 2016-2017.

The essential nature of these policy recommendations is to ensure community and household safety in every Florida community. Most children and teens get their primary knowledge of our local communities through the secondary education system. The primary abilities of children and teens who gain knowledge about weapons and mental health issues come from school and home life. Training secondary education teachers in school and out of school diversion programs will help teachers who are teaching or have taught Floridian youth that have been suspended in school, suspended out of school, or expelled. These children and teens are commonly at risk of being charged with small crimes, incarcerated or sentenced to diversion programs in the local community. To be preventative, we need to start reeducating our teachers on new methods to help these students while they are in class instead of neglecting them or making minor punishments without notifying their parents.

“Life skills education brides the gap between basic functioning and capabilities. It strengthens the ability of an individual to meet the needs and demands of the present society and helps in dealing with issues in a practical manner” (Cassidy, Franco, Meo, 2018) It is imperative that teachers can instruct the whole child, with the understanding that life skills play a significant part in their future success. Concepts like communication skills, goal setting, how to prepare a meal, budgeting, and time management are often expected to be ‘picked up along the way’ as students grow up. Yet, literature reviews tell us that most scholars believe that today’s constantly evolving ‘home life’ structure means many students lack a support system at home to teach the life skills necessary to thrive after graduation. Therefore, strategic planning guides restorative juvenile justice to implement life skills into everyday lessons to respond to student’ interest, desires, and needs.

Policy option number one has a high political feasibility, average practical accountability and low possibility of support from stakeholders and community members. The reason policy option was ranked in this manner was to evidence from earlier Florida Congress sessions policies and funding for life skills and teacher training has increased over the years. New statewide developments for secondary education teachers have improved and more statewide funding can create a high political possibility for a new life skills training program to be developed in secondary education requirements. Political support for Florida’s youth education has been historically high and with a high possibility of sustaining the youth diversion program interventions and rehabilitation efforts.

 

Justice system semiannual data collection

Justice system semiannual data collection reviews of court system diversion programs are needed to stay up to date on new data that is collected by diversion programs in the state of Florida. Many of the people who are referred through the judicial court system must be referred to by a relative, guardian, school counselor, teacher, judge, or law enforcement officer. The youth that have been referred to a diversion program whether it be a court contracted community diversion program or a local private business that helps children and teens. We must have open transparency to the public, universities, public government offices and private businesses to inform the community about the people who are referred to these programs. Many of the demographics that are necessary to run policy related data collection research are missing from open-source public access. The information needed will help law makers make effective decisions on gun policies that affect our community children and teens. Currently, the judicial system runs a semiannual data collection of youth that were admitted to a diversion program based on the type of crime they committed.

The second policy option for the Justice system semiannual data collection for the court diversion programs is directed towards public youth diversion programs. The political feasibility of this policy options is average possibility because there has not been legislative action taken in earlier Florida congressional sessions that focused on the necessary data collection needed by statewide and local community diversion programs. Currently, there is no mandated policy available to understand the semiannual data collection from community diversion programs. In conjunction with political feasibility, the practical accountability for the Florida juvenile justice system to gather data from youth across the state in a semiannual basis has a average possibility of being practical. The Justice department will need additional funding to add more resources and personnel that can collect data from statewide diversion programs, and which will help achieve a deeper understanding of youth that commit crimes and juvenile recidivism rates. The support by stakeholders and community members is low because currently there is limited access to local community diversion program data that shows their rate of acceptance and completion. Many of the private diversion programs not managed through a secondary education school or legal system develop their own methods of data collection which varies and has limited uniform data throughout the state. For example, youth age ranges, ethnicity/race (if given), education level, and type of crime committed, and community referral by personal (relative, community leader, law enforcement, education teacher, counselor, social worker).

Building a pathway program

Building a pathway program specifically for at risk Floridian youth in low-income neighborhoods. The workforce pathways for youth helps teens get access to job opportunities after secondary education. The youth learn age-appropriate workforce readiness programs that expand their knowledge of proper community social interactions. Soft development skills, career exploration, job readiness and certification programs help Floridian youth learn new ways to exert anger and depression problems. The support from programs like Boys and Girls Club of America, Jobs for America’s Graduates, National Urban League and AMIKids, Inc. help fundamentally support children and teens who need to develop their skills out of school time. The target groups for this pathway program are youth applicants who are in and out of school, low-income youth, urban and rural youth, and youth with barriers to employment including foster youth, parenting youth, homeless youth, youth with disabilities and youth offenders/ ex-offenders. Alternative programs like pathway programs help youth build new skills that keep them off the streets and not use illegal firearms.   

Pathways programs can help youth build job skills through partnerships with other workforce training organizations that help locate new services for our communities. Many of the youth that enter in a pathway’s programs earn a certificate in a vocational education like carpentry, electric technician, culinary, internet web developing, plumbing, and car mechanics. Secondary education schools use certain vocational education to help students understand life after high school and the responsibilities of modern society. High school classes like home economics and childcare help students prepare for building a family with children. Many of the laws and regulations for home economic stability are taught in these high school classes that help manage the stress of a new family.

Rehabilitation

Meta-analysis can provide dedicated support for the efficacy of diversion programs and the causation and direct interventions involved with youth. Creating low levels of reoffending for medium and high-risk youth is the goal through certain diversion rehabilitation services. Further studies on the distinct types of rehabilitation treatments are needed to analysis the quality, type and dose of treatment needed to lower the rate of recidivism for admitted diversion youth. (Wilson, Hodge, 2013) Emphasizing the importance of employing evidence-based interventions, particularly structured behavior and cognitive techniques with a diversion training program will help youth learn and adapt to their environment. Three basic components of youth rehabilitation were:

  1. Comprehensibility connected with cognitive possibilities in the situation of the person

  2. Manageability which makes one see a way out of one’s situation thanks to the resources one has

  3. Meaningfulness which determines that it is worth getting involved in the aspects of one’s life. The sense of meaningfulness is responsible for what one believes is the meaning of one’s life.  (Z Kopanski, I Balinska, Y Lishchynskyy., 2013)

 

Basic component one determines the ability of youth that understand that they have different possibilities of their situation besides the crimes they have committed before entering the diversion program. The term comprehensibility can be translated to the standardized test youth must pass before graduating from the diversion program. Basic component two shows the youth’s ability to see a new life outside of their current predicament to envision a new life path. Finding the methods to manage through life’s most difficult tasks of relearning civil society procedures and ways to become a law-abiding citizen are vitally important takeaway lessons youth must learn. Basic component three determines the meaningfulness of the youth’s life or a sense of purpose to complete tasks. Building their life’s purpose gives youth a sense of belonging to civil society that drives new innovations and productivity. The third basic component is the most important because it will last a lifetime if the youth is able to deeply understand their dream and life goals which can be achieved with hard work and dedication.

V. Conclusion and Implementation Plan

The Floridian youth diversion program approaches restorative justice to show the new policy options that can be used to correct youth driven rehabilitation. All three policy options are practical solutions that can contribute to reduced recidivism rates, increased life skills education, and statewide data collection. The most important policy option through the evaluative criteria is the statewide pathways program that can redirect the statewide juvenile justice system diversion programs. Making a unified juvenile diversion program that has the capability to be run by the state with state curriculum can change the entire rate of youth who are at-risk of recommitting crimes and youth that recommit crimes.

The pathways program should be structured similarly to the FCAT that supplies a list of juvenile requirements that they must learn outside of typical rehabilitation skills. The statewide pathways program must make it a priority that youth gain the fundamental education they need while in a diversion program to become successful in public or private school education. For instance, youth driven programs should have on-site tutoring programs that help them understand math, science, history, reading, and writing skills. The use of advanced technology can be helpful when filling the gaps in youth driven education for youth that missed months of school because they were part of a diversion program. Completely stopping their education in many instances does not solve the problem of them recommitting crimes, it only stops their continued learning to the next grade level for semesters or school years.

The statewide pathways program can give more resources to the diversion program officers that can keep up with their educational development which is vital during these early years of development. Diversion curricular activities can coincide with the educational requirements needed to pass the FCAT or other standardized testing that are required by the school. When students can work together, they perform better at their tasks by interacting with youth that are in their grade level.

In addition, teachers must be provided with life skills training that can be passed down to their students. Both the pathways program and life skills training work simultaneously to help reduce the risk of youth drive crimes. Teachers are at the front of the youth arrest intake because they can reeducate the negative aspects of our civil society. Teachers often must become innovators that can show their students new skills they can take into the community and at home. Teachers need to manage effective teaching and learning processes so that students know how to learn and utilize their knowledge appropriately in their daily life and live in a society with happiness. Therefore, teachers need to develop their competencies in accordance with educational transformation in practice as well as professional activities effectively. ( Prasertcharoensuk, Somprach, & Ngang, 2015) Life skills are expected to be integrated through students’ learning process encompassed the transmission of knowledge, skills, attitude, value system on themselves and others, self-defense and self-management. ( Prasertcharoensuk, Somprach, & Ngang, 2015) Similar to the pathways program, life skills training can help students measure their progress through four aspects.

  1. Namely awareness and self-esteem,

  2. Analytical thinking,

  3. Decision making and problem solving,

  4. Emotion and stress management and building relationships with others.

 Once students can complete these four aspects, they are ready to graduate from the life skills program. The implementation of these requirements is vital for the student’s learning achievements. Other aspects that can be built from life skills training are ethics and integrity. In a recent study by Thanomwan Prasertcharoensuk, Kanok-lin Somprach, and Tang Keow Ngang, students are possessing elevated levels of life skills particularly in building relationships with others. Educators across the state believe that a student’s relationship with their peers will affect their long-term development and what they will achieve. Students were able to communicate to create cooperation, work with others and build relationships with teachers. In this kind of rapport teacher-student relationships help their learning process.

Similarly, life skills analytical thinking, decision-making and creative problem solving also provided a positive effect on learning achievements. Thinking skills are a basic skill that are used regularly in daily life and are the foundation for higher order of cognitive thinking throughout grade levels and life achievements. However, emotion and stress management found to have negative effects on students’ ability to learn and that the emotional quotient might be contradicting to the intelligence quotient. In other terms, although a students’ emotional behavior might be declining it does not have a direct correlation with a positive academic career. For instance, students that with an elevated level of intelligence quotient might not be able to cope under stress or pressure. Similarly, students with high emotional quotient would rather be doing happier tasks than to complete academic work that can decline. The teacher life skills training implementation is used to guide a teacher to finding these problems early in youth if they see these types of behavior or attitudes develop.

Instructional management has a positive effect on student learning abilities while self-development has a negative effect on student learning. Teachers who have a higher level of curriculum and knowledge management can improve their students overall. Education institutions across the state are looking for inductive methods to gain teachers with a high degree of knowledge for their students learning success. Therefore, educational institutions create policies to enhance school quality that can give them a higher school districting grade level. Conducting seminars or workshops to provide opportunities for teachers’ self-development can have a positive effect in and outside of the classroom. Supplying teachers with a sufficient budget to support their access to learning can help manage youth drive life skills.

 Implementing SMART goals and self-reflection strategy can help students manage priorities and remain on task while driving with pride towards success. For instance, SMART goal setting for how they want to do on their midterms and following the goal with a time management plan to prioritize their time leading up to the exams can help their academic and emotional behavior. (Cassidy, Franco, Meo, 2018) After a few weeks of planning students can reorganize the steps left and revise their goals and time management plan. Small group social skills instruction can be a realistic implementation qualification that student and teachers need to avoid crime or negative community consequences. Preparing students to avoid crimes and breaking the law are important to relay during this life skills training process.

The investments in these policy options can help restorative justice practices across the state of Florida. There are opportunities for youth diversion programs to make new community-based solutions that can help the entire state of Florida. The best part of these juvenile diversion programs is that upon completion of the program the youth have their law enforcement criminal and judicial record expunged. Youth can live a life that gives them the opportunity to make new changes in our civil society. Restorative justice helps all Floridian youth become more active through community service.

Florida civil citation and diversion process
Evaluative criteria
civil citation process

References

BaysKids (2022) JDAP Program. https://bayskids.org/our-services/jdap-program/

Children’s Defense Fund CDF. (2022) Youth Justice. https://www.childrensdefense.org/policy/policy-priorities/youth-justice/

Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida (11th Circuit) (2022) Juvenile Drug Court. https://www.jud11.flcourts.org/Juvenile-Drug-Court

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). (2022) Recidivism Time to Failure https://www.djj.state.fl.us/content/download/23802/file/briefing-report-recidivism-time-to-failure.pdf

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). (2021). Diversion Report 2021. https://www.djj.state.fl.us/research/reports-and-data/interactive-data-reports/delinquency-profile/diversion-report-2021

Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) (2022) UCR Definition: Larceny. https://www.fdle.state.fl.us/FSAC/Crime-Data/Larceny

Florida Health. (2019) Florida Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report. https://floridahealthstory.org/stories/yrbs_2019/index.html?utm_source=floridahealth.gov&utm_campaign=yrbs&utm_content=callout&source_trace=http://www.floridahealth.gov/statistics-and-data/survey-data/florida-youth-survey/youth-risk-behavior-survey/index.html

FL Senate (2021) CS/CS/HB 885 – Juvenile Justice Programs and Detention. https://www.flsenate.gov/Committees/billsummaries/2021/html/2394

Herz, Denise C., Ryan, Joseph P, and Bilchik, Shay. (2010) Challenges facing crossover youth: An examination of juvenile-justice decision making and recidivism https://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/fmlcr48&id=305&men_tab=srchresults

Kelly Cassidy, Yvonne Franco, Emilia Meo. (2018) Preparation for Adulthood: A Teacher Inquiry Study for Facilitating Life Skills in Secondary Education in the United States. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1172806

Pumphrey Law Criminal defense. (2022). Diversion Programs in Florida. https://www.pumphreylawfirm.com/diversion-programs-in-florida/

 Sammis Law Firm (2022) Juvenile Diversion Programs. https://criminaldefenseattorneytampa.com/juvenile-matters/juvenile-diversion-programs/

Thanomwan Prasertcharoensuk, Kanok-lin Somprach, Tang Keow Ngang. (2015) Influence of Teacher Competency Facotrs and Students’ Life Skills on Learning Achievement

Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Hillsborough County (13th Circuit)  (2022) Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program.https://www.fljud13.org/CourtPrograms/JuvenileDiversionPrograms/JuvenileArrestAvoidanceProgram.aspx

 Wilson, Hoge. (2013) The effect of youth diversion programs on recidivism a meta-analysis review. Florida State University (FSU) online library.

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) (2022) What is Arbitration? https://www.wipo.int/amc/en/arbitration/what-is-arb.html

Youth.gov (2022) Prevention and early Intervention. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/juvenile-justice/prevention-and-early-intervention

Z Kopanski, I Balinska, Y Lishchynskyy. (2013) The effectiveness of approved school youth rehabilitation. https://ruj.uj.edu.pl/xmlui/handle/item/133103 Google Scholar.