When a teen is charged with a crime in Florida, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) reviews the case and provides recommendations for rehabilitation and to prevent future delinquency. Many of these options for first-time, non-violent offenders include juvenile diversion programs in Florida. These programs are alternatives to the juvenile justice system geared toward teens with risk factors such as the following:
- A history of childhood abuse
- Instability in the home
- Poor grades
What types of juvenile diversion programs does Florida offer?
There are various types of juvenile diversion programs across the state. Some focus on prevention, while others focus on intervention. Program type and availability varies by court district.
For instance, the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which serves Pasco and Pinellas counties, offers six general types of programs. The most widely attended program, the Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program (JAAP), is a collaborate effort that attempts to intervene and quickly break the potential cycle of juvenile involvement in the justice system. About 70 percent of youths in Pinellas who have faced non-violent crime charges participate in JAAP.
“These cases are ‘direct’ diverted, which means that eligible cases are offered participation in one of a half dozen existing diversion programs, without the filing of an arrest affidavit. Thus, a youth, through successful completion of diversion, earns a non-arrest record on a potential misdemeanor charge,” explains the Sixth Judicial Circuit.
Other youth diversion programs in Pinellas County include:
- Juvenile Arbitration – juveniles facing misdemeanor charges can attend a hearing and face sanctions.
- STOP (Service & Treatment for Offender Prevention) – juveniles with multiple misdemeanor offenses or third-degree felony offenses may participate in this program. They must complete sanctions including at least 50 community service hours and weekly phone calls.
- Juvenile Drug Court – those facing misdemeanor or felony drug charges submit to random drug tests and a drug assessment. It ends with dismissal of charges.
- Teen Court – the juvenile must admit guilt and accept punishment that his or her peers set. These peers come from nearby high schools.
- At-Risk Intervention & Motivation – this voluntary summer program provides education for at-risk youth to prevent those who participate from ever being involved in the justice system.
What benefits do juvenile diversion programs provide?
The primary advantage diversion programs have for youth is that if they complete the program successfully, the state will dismiss their charges. The programs identify and address risk factors the youth has, and seek to provide ideas and remedies to help them become good citizens and avoid the slippery slope that leads to committing more serious crimes. Some of the subjects diversion programs may address include:
- Anger management
- Restitution and community service
- Vocational services
- Drug screening and education
- Substance abuse treatment