Juvenile Justice

Diversion programs are alternatives to the formal juvenile justice system for youth who have been charged with a minor crime. 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. 

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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. 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. There is still a relatively high number of youths being arrested in Florida communities for minor crimes.  

1,909 children are arrested each day in America – one every 45 seconds nationwide. More than 530,000 children were arrested in the United States in 2019. 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. 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 Youth prisons are often harmful, large, outdated, punitive places in which children are locked in secure facilities without the compassion, services, and support they need.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. 

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Types of 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 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. 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. 

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.  

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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  

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.  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”. 

Creating life skills helps youth gain the abilities they need to prosper in the future. Many of the youth progress are measured 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. 

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