The State of Juvenile Diversion in Florida
Many states, including Florida, have started to realize that locking kids up in prison may not be the best way to reduce crime. Juveniles that end up behind bars often end up being repeat offenders and many times are unable to reform their lives through the prison system. That’s why Florida has started to offer juvenile diversion programs and a new bill in the state may open diversion programs to more juvenile offenders.
What are Diversion Programs?
Diversion programs are punishment alternatives that keep young offenders out of prison and their crimes off of their records if they qualify and complete a program. Youths that are under the age of 18 and are charged with a crime will be referred to the Department of Juvenile Justice. The Department may then make a recommendation to the court to put the offending juvenile into a diversion program depending on the circumstances.
Alternatives to the normal juvenile justice system includes programs such as Juvenile Alternative Services Program (JASP), Teen Court, Intensive Delinquency Diversion Services , Boy and Girl Scouts, mentoring programs, and alternative schools. These programs may have the offender perform community service, undergo behavior management classes, take drug test and screens, or participate in educational programs. Completing a diversion program allows the juvenile offender to avoid jail and to have his or her record expunged.
Diversion Programs in Florida
Florida law currently only allows juveniles arrested for misdemeanor offenses to have their records expunged, however. If a juvenile offender is arrested for a felony they may be able to enter a diversion program but the law explicitly limits juvenile expungement to misdemeanors. A new proposed law would eliminate the words “for a misdemeanor offense” from the current statute and the revised law would say:
“Notwithstanding any law dealing generally with the preservation and destruction of public records, the department shall adopt rules to provide for the expunction of a nonjudicial record of the arrest of a minor who has successfully completed a diversion program.”
Juvenile intake/arrests in Florida have declined by consistent margins every year since 2013 according to statistics released by the Juvenile Justice Information System. In 2013 there were 78,344 juvenile intake/arrests compared to 59,473 last year. That is a near 25 percent decline in arrests of youths over the past 5 years. That decline may be in part due to an increased emphasis on diversion programs that reduce the likelihood the offenders will re-offend after they complete the program.
By allowing those who youths who commit more serious offenses to expunge their records, the number of juvenile arrests could be reduced even further. A young person or student who has felony charge on their record will have a more difficult time finding a job or attending school and is therefore more likely to put themselves in situations where they are more likely to commit crimes.