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We must intervene early

This tragedy has demonstrated that we must improve Florida's juvenile justice system, including efforts that can help catch dangerous and violent teens before they kill.

More than any other factors, youth, gender and lack of education explain violent crime. The majority of prison inmates in Florida are male, and their average reading level is fifth grade. These statistics scream for the application of appropriate early interventions while we still have time to change the trajectory of a child who is engaging in at-risk or delinquent behavior.

Nicholas Lindsey had a prior juvenile criminal record. We squandered the opportunity to provide effective early interventions to address his personal and family issues long before his criminal behavior escalated. Up to now, Florida's juvenile justice system has been sorely broken because of a lack of leadership and commitment to youths whose behaviors are often simply cries for help.

However, Wansley Walters is now at the helm of the Department of Juvenile Justice as its new secretary and promises to deliver to the state the successful interventions that she developed while overseeing the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department. What works is clearly defined in her world by needs and risk assessments, which instruct early interventions such as the civil citation programs that provide an alternative to arresting and taking children who commit misdemeanors into custody.

The program incorporates early intervention and effective diversion programs while offering swift and appropriate consequences. By quickly diverting these youths away from the juvenile justice system in their first encounter with law enforcement we have a unique opportunity to work with the youths and families to address the underlying issues that are causing the youths to act out.

Because the program allows youths to attain complete and targeted treatment services outside of the systems that currently exist and without the shame or collateral sanctions of a criminal record, they are more likely to continue in school, obtain employment and enjoy the second chance they deserve to live a law-abiding life as a young adult.

With an immediate cost savings of $5,000 per child and a 3 percent recidivism rate, it would appear that we have no other option but to implement these programs statewide, as has been recommended by Florida TaxWatch.

Just think of the lives we may be saving.

Vicki Lopez Lukis is vice chairwoman of the Florida Re-entry Advisory Council and former chairwoman of Gov. Jeb Bush's Ex-Offender Task Force.

We must intervene early 03/04/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 4, 2011 3:30am]
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