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Florida juvenile arrests lowest in 30 years, new report shows

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Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday that Florida juvenile arrests have hit their lowest level since 1984, according to the latest delinquency report released by the Department of Juvenile Justice.

“Florida is committed to ensuring our communities remain safe, and the ongoing decline in juvenile arrests shows that our focus on prevention programs is working,” Scott said. “We will continue to make important investments in DJJ to make Florida’s juvenile justice system a national leader and ensure our children have the support they need.”

The report shows 75,066 juvenile arrests during the 2014-15 fiscal year, a 4 percent drop over the 2013-14 fiscal year, and a 32 percent drop from the 110,515 arrests recorded in the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The drop in arrests was tied to an 8 percent drop in misdemeanor offenses compared to last year. Overall, DJJ reports 39,081 misdemeanor offenses in 2014-15, which is a 46.5 percent drop over the 73,105 misdemeanors recorded in 2010-11. Felony offenses measured in at 31,745 in the report, which is a 2 percent compared to 2013-14 and a drop of nearly 24 percent compared to 2010-11 figures.

Part of the drop is due to a DJJ program that replaces misdemeanor charges with civil citations for first-time offenders brought in for low-level crimes, such as vandalism or marijuana possession. The Civil Citation Initiative requires juveniles to admit guilt and enter a diversion program, such as Teen Court, and may require restitution payments and up to 50 hours of community service. Upon successful completion, participants will have no juvenile record.

“The statistics from the latest delinquency report show that the transformation of our juvenile justice system in recent years is producing results, and most importantly, producing better outcomes for the youth we serve,” DJJ Secretary Christina Daly said.

In addition to the drop in arrests, juvenile commitments to residential placement during fell from 2,812 in the 2013-14 fiscal year to 2,613 in 2014-15 and the number of youths entering diversion programs fell from 18,851 to 17,463 year-over year. Over the past five years, residential placements are down 43 percent and diversion programs have had a 46 percent drop.

The biggest strides came from the state’s four most populous counties: Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. Broward County saw the largest decrease in juvenile arrests this year with a 14 percent drop. Hillsborough County dropped 11 percent from last year’s total and Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties each saw a 10 percent drop.

DJJ said the improvements were due to its “Roadmap to System Excellence” plan, which has reallocated DJJ resources to programs that produce the best outcomes. The department, the largest centrally organized juvenile justice agency in the nation, was allocated about $544 million in the 2014-15 budget, a slight drop from the $551 million allocated the previous year.

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

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