1. Opinion

Juvenile justice reforms break pattern of delinquency

Published Dec. 7, 2012

As a retired juvenile court judge who served in Pinellas County for nearly 10 years, I am pleased to endorse the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Roadmap to System Excellence. I am proud that Florida is taking bold steps to comprehensively reform our juvenile justice system so it can be a model for humane and effective treatment of troubled children.

As a judge, my first priority was to protect public safety. I witnessed the debilitating cycle of delinquency that leads to adult criminal behavior and incarceration. The best way to promote safe communities is to break the cycle of behavior that brings children into the courtroom in the first place. I sought to administer justice in a way that taught children to avoid delinquent acts.

The Roadmap follows a similar approach by delivering the right service to the right youth at the right time, so they can avoid developing a pattern of delinquency.

Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters is implementing reforms that give judges more intervention options for low-level offenders while maintaining the option of residential treatment in secure facilities for kids who pose a risk to public safety.

Florida has made impressive strides in reducing delinquency. In the past five years, delinquency has dropped 35 percent statewide.

An offender group of special concern to me is girls, and I am greatly encouraged by the progress Florida is making with them. Since 2008, arrests involving girls declined 36 percent. The severity of their offenses also decreased dramatically. Felonies committed by girls dropped 40 percent, and robberies declined 61 percent.

Local numbers are also encouraging. Arrests of girls are down more than the statewide average — 41 percent in Pinellas County and 42 percent in Hillsborough County. In Pinellas, aggravated assaults by girls are down 28 percent and robberies dropped 33 percent; in Hillsborough, aggravated assaults are down 32 percent and robberies dropped 56 percent.

PACE Center for Girls deserves a lot of the credit for that. PACE has a proven record of helping girls find success by keeping them in school and helping them avoid teen pregnancy and substance abuse.

Florida deserves comprehensive juvenile justice reform, and Juvenile Justice is reaching out to the public to achieve it. By collaborating on reforms, we can further increase the strides our state is making in reducing delinquency and offer greater hope to more kids for a brighter future.

Irene Sullivan retired from the 6th Judicial Circuit bench in December 2010. She is an internationally recognized expert on juvenile justice and author of "Raised by the Courts: One Judge's Insight into Juvenile Justice." She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.


  1. Leonard Pitts [undefined]
    Leonard Pitts explains that diversity doesn’t happen by itself.
  2. San Francisco has benefited from the growth of nearby Silicon Valley. That metro area added 30,000 jobs in the past year.
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  3. Thousands rallied and marched from the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center to the Florida Historic Capitol to demand more money for public schools this month in Tallahassee. [TORI LYNN SCHNEIDER/TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT  |  AP]
    Here’s what readers have to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
  4. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis waves to members of the Florida Legislature during a joint session of lawmakers this week. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    Here’s what readers are saying in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  5. Presiding Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swears in members of the Senate for the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. [AP]
    Here’s what readers are saying in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  6. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times]
    Women, Hispanics and residents from smaller counties are disproportionately serving long drug sentences that are no longer in place.
  7. Thousands of trees line the Hillsborough River near Wilderness park in Hillsborough County in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Many of Florida’s problems originate with that ‘motto,’ writes historian Gary Mormino.
  8. First meeting of U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. and their two wives — Patricia Nixon and Coretta Scott King — during Independence Day celebrations in Accra, Ghana, on March 6, 1957, on the tails of the end of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. It was the first trip to Africa of all of them. [Photo by Griff Davis on assignment as U.S. Foreign Service Officer by U.S. Information Service (USIS). Copyright and courtesy of Griffith J. Davis Photographs & Archives.]
    Griff Davis’ daughter recounts how the photographer and Foreign Service officer captured a famous photo of King and Richard Nixon.
  9. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman speak at a summit held by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council's Resiliency Coalition this month in St. Petersburg. [LANGSTON TAYLOR  |  Times staff]
    Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman should lead an effort for robust regional transit.
  10. Vehicle traffic is seen along Bayshore Boulevard at a crosswalk at South Dakota Avenue in Tampa. Several intersections have pedestrian-activated beacons.
    A bill would end the confusion and save lives by making crosswalk signals red.