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Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office expands program that keeps minors out of jail

Teens can now opt-in without parent permission
Posted at 11:49 AM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 17:37:22-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is making changes to its program intended to help teens who have broken the law.

The Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program, or JAAP, launched in August of 2017 to provide juveniles alternatives to arrest and detention when they violate the law. The point is early intervention to avoid the criminal justice system. More than 750 Hillsborough County teens enter into the program every year.

"We are motivated by one simple and powerful idea. A juvenile's first interaction with a criminal justice system should be his last," said State Attorney Andrew Warren of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.

First-time teen offenders who commit misdemeanors like petty theft, trespass, marijuana possession, and others, can be issued a civil citation instead of being handcuffed, booked and potentially face jail time.

"That means no handcuffs. No rides in the back of a patrol car and no mug shots. It's a child's one chance to turn things around," said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister.

Teens can also be connected with counseling, treatment services and other community resources to help rehabilitate them.

"While we certainly do not encourage or condone this behavior, I think we can all relate and understand that children do make mistakes and they should not suffer long term consequences for a poor and immature decision," said Chronister.

If they successfully complete the program, the case is closed without referral to the State Attorney's Office.

"As the public defender, one of the things that I obviously have learned is the tremendous impact that an arrest can have on a juvenile," said Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt. "It literally stops their life cold. It changes their opportunities for the military, it changes their opportunities for scholarship and changes their opportunity for employment. All of those things have long term impacts on someone's life."

There are five exemptions that would make an offending youth not eligible for JAAP:

1. Assault on a specified official (school employee, detention officer, law enforcement officer)
2. Battery (includes domestic with the exception of family violence)
3. Driving under the influence
4. Racing
5. Violation of injunction

In 2019, the program was expanded to include instances of family violence. Thursday, the program was expanded for the second time. Parental consent is no longer mandatory for a teen to qualify for JAAP.

"It's unfair when we can't reach up parents to get the consent ahead of time and that means that a kid can't go through a program that is proven to have lower recidivism and better outcomes for the kid," said Warren.

Now, when the arrest of a juvenile under the age of 12 is being considered, deputies must first consult with a supervisor to discuss other options and a preference should be given to JAAP.

The program doesn't just have an impact on the life of offending teenagers but also to taxpayers. According to the State Attorney's Office for the 13th Judicial Circuit, the average cost to prosecute a juvenile is about $5,000. It costs taxpayers more than $55,000 per year to incarcerate a juvenile. The average cost to enroll a juvenile in a civil citation program is around $400.

"Of those children who successfully completed our JDP program, under the Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program, 81% did not re-offend within the first year" said Judge Ronald Ficarrotta of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit.