Just six years ago, Hillsborough County and its county seat, Tampa, led the state in the number of juveniles arrested for nonviolent or minor offenses. County commissioners were dismayed by not only the costs this created for their court system, but also for the rap sheets now carried by thousands of juveniles–arrest records can sometimes create obstacles to college education or employment.
To ensure that the juvenile justice system was focused on delinquents in true need of intervention, in 2011 the county created a diversion program specifically for first-time juvenile offenders accused of one of eight low-level misdemeanors.
Eligible juveniles must not have any prior delinquency issues, take responsibility for their actions, and comply with the program’s requirements, which can involve restitution or formal apologies.
In the program’s first year of operation, 688 juveniles entered the program, and 626—or 91 percent—successfully completed the program, wiping their slate clean.
While further fine-tuning of the program is necessary, Hillsborough County has taken the first step towards halting the cycle of delinquency and targeting justice system resources to more serious juvenile offenders.