Success in Juvenile Justice Diversions May Influence Treatment of Adult Offenders in Florida

In October, officials in one Florida community announced that its local police force would now have the ability to issue civil citations in lieu of formal arrests for certain crimes. The Leon County, Fla., measure targeting a largely adult-offender base takes many cues from the state’s juvenile justice system, which has seen vast improvements to juvenile crime rates due to lock-up alternatives.

According to the News Service of Florida  proponents of a statewide movement issue more citations to and arrest fewer adult offenders – if the individual has committed a non-violent crime and has no previous arrest record -- claim that such a policy would save the state tens of millions of dollars in annual incarceration expenses.

Tentative plans would require adult offenders in Leon County - which contains the state capital of Tallahassee - to undergo an assessment within three days of a citation, in addition to performing community service or receiving substance abuse treatment if it may have been a contributing factor to the crime.

Leon County officials began issuing civil citations for non-violent juvenile offenders in 1995. A Florida Department of Juvenile Justice report states that in 2009 and 2010, approximately 7,000 juveniles throughout the state were given civil citations, with only 7 percent re-offending. A 2011 report issued by the Associated Industries of Florida Foundation suggests that through diversion programs the state’s juvenile detention population could be reduced by as much as 40 percent.

“It worked so well with the juveniles that we think it’ll work really well with adults,” Smart Justice Alliance CEO and President Mark Flynn told ABC-affiliate WZVN.

Photo from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice website. 

Early Numbers Show 10 Percent Decrease in Florida Juvenile Delinquency

Early figures show a 10 percent decline in Florida juvenile delinquency reports for FY 2010-2011, ending June 30th.

Delinquency referrals peaked in 1994-1995, according to the Associated Press, with 123 for every 1,000 kids age 10 to 17. Since then the rate has dropped every year to it’s current low of 59 for every 1,000 juveniles in the state.

Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice plans to further reduce the number of referrals in the coming years with an increased emphasis on civil citations in lieu of criminal charges and community-based treatment programs.

While the exact number of juvenile offenders has yet to be determined, the department expects it to be below 110,000 for the year.