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Alternatives to Incarceration: Juvenile Justice in Florida

The Florida juvenile justice system is one of the busiest in the nation. Even so, many kids are falling through the cracks of a system designed to spot abuse, abandonment, delinquency and neglect, turning to a life of crime to get by. Florida's current tendency towards incarcerating juveniles and adults alike is slowly giving way to alternative programs that emphasize diversion, distraction and meeting children's needs in lieu of putting them on lockdown.

Current Alternative Justice Programs

Florida - particularly Broward County - is home to several groundbreaking programs designed to ultimately give trouble kids a chance to turn their lives around and fight the temptation to turn to crime. These programs are all different, yet they have common goals: prevention, intervention and diversion. They utilize various methods and may have slightly different audiences (some cater specifically to either boys or girls, while some focus on a more holistic approach and choose to try to serve the needs of whole families), but all are proven to be effective at keeping juvenile offenders from becoming career criminals.

One of the best-known diversion programs in the state is Healthy Families Florida. It is perhaps best described by Juvenile Court Judge Irene Sullivan, who wrote about juvenile justice for the Sun Sentinel earlier this year. She says it is a "nationally accredited home visiting program proven to prevent child abuse and neglect in 98 percent of the high-risk families served."

This program has not only been proven to save children from the consequences of being abused or neglected by their parents, but it also has huge financial savings when compared to incarceration-based methods of punishment. The average annual cost to serve a family with Healthy Families Florida is a meager $1,700, compared with nearly $70,000 to deal with the individual and societal costs of child abuse (including expenses like housing juvenile offenders in a secure detention facility, hospitalization of victims, rehabilitation and future law enforcement costs).

With programs like Healthy Families Florida, the Guardian ad Litem system, the Broward Diversion Coalition, the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and more, hopefully more of Florida's children will grow up without having been involved in the juvenile justice system. If your child has been charged with a crime, however, it is vitally important that you secure experienced defense representation. It may be possible to keep your child out of a detention center and on the road to a new life with the help of a skilled advocate.

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