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  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.

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