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State seeking major overhaul of juvenile justice system
By orlandosentinel.com - Margie Menzel
Published: 10/11/2013

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is proposing a major overhaul of its mission, emphasizing prevention while keeping the most dangerous offenders from committing more crimes.

DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week that by revamping the laws governing her agency, dwindling dollars could be applied more strategically.

"We have hurt the future of many children by moving them deeper in the system than they needed to be," Walters said. "On the other hand, we have had other children who have wreaked havoc in our communities and moved on into the adult system that we haven't done a good job on."

Her draft legislation includes using risk-assessment tools and alternatives to detention in order to keep low- to moderate-risk offenders out of the deep end of the juvenile justice system, where the likelihood of recidivism is highest.

A key tenet is the use of civil citations, a method of sanctioning juveniles for non-violent first offenses rather than detaining them. Law enforcement has opposed civil citations in the past, preferring to keep its discretion in charging juveniles, but during Walters' tenure as secretary the civil-citation practice has spread from 17 to 51 counties.

She told lawmakers the success rate for juveniles who get civil citations was 94 percent, meaning that they complete their legal obligations and don't commit additional offenses within a year.

But Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said civil citations should be an option --- but not mandatory.

"We do more in our county without the civil citation than the civil citation would allow," Judd said. "I think it is a good alternative if you don't have a successful program in your county or judicial circuit."

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