The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has become a national leader in providing progressive, rehabilitative services for at-risk and delinquent youth and families in the state. Currently, DJJ does not have specified limitations on how children 12 and under are treated; youth may enter the official juvenile justice system (probation, detention, residential programs, etc.) at any age depending on their charge and the discretion of those involved in their case. Though these young offenders, those 12 years and younger, do not represent a large portion of all youth involved in the DJJ system, they are a population meriting intensive treatment and preventative services, as 54% of those youth entering the official DJJ system (non-preventative services) prior to the age of 12 go on to become serious, violent, and chronic offenders throughout adolescence and adulthood.
Unfortunately, after these youth enter the non-prevention side of DJJ, the legal requirements associated with their sanctions may overshadow the more important need to receive individualized services consistently proven to be more successful in preventing recidivism than punitive sanctions. Furthermore, exposure to the formal juvenile justice system may have long-term negative impacts that increase future recidivism rates.
All youth 12 years and younger committing a misdemeanor offense should be referred to established prevention programs, including civil citation, substance abuse counseling, functional family therapy, etc. All youth ages 12 and under committing misdemeanor and/or nonviolent felony offenses should be given DJJ’s existing prevention assessment tool (PAT) and referred to services in accordance with the PAT results highlighting the youth’s risk and protective factors. By mandating existing preventative services for all youth under 12 who come into contact with DJJ, the state will create a uniform policy for law enforcement and local judicial representatives, saving the state unnecessary time and money and reducing future recidivism for this vulnerable population.