Expanded program gives first-time Hillsborough juvenile offenders more leniency

The program is designed to prevent young people from suffering long-term consequences for misdemeanors

click to enlarge Expanded program gives first-time Hillsborough juvenile offenders more leniency
Photo via HCSO

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office announced Thursday that it has made changes to its Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program (JAAP) as of Sept. 1.

The program offers juvenile first-time offenders the opportunity to receive a civil citation rather than a criminal charge when they commit qualifying misdemeanors, according to a HCSO press release. It also offers treatment and counseling to juvenile offenders in hopes of addressing the issue and preventing repeat offenses. 

“We don't encourage bad behavior, but we understand children and teens make mistakes," said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “At this highly impressionable stage of life, we want to guide them to make better decisions through a more tailored approach. In many cases, an arrest only worsens their troubles and can lead to a life of crime."

The changes include making all but five misdemeanor offenses eligible for the JAAP, no longer requiring parental consent for someone to qualify for the program, and requiring law enforcement officers to consult with a supervisor and prioritize JAAP when considering the arrest of a juvenile under the age of 12.

The five misdemeanor offenses that make a juvenile ineligible for the JAAP are assault on a specified official, battery, driving under the influence, racing, and violation of injunction.

These changes come at a time when citizens across America are asking for reform of the criminal justice system, specifically in the ways it disproportionately affects BIPOC. This largely includes police reform, which Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in August is needed, while simultaneously pushing to increase the Tampa Police Department’s budget by $13 million next year.

But the JAAP does appear to have been successful in keeping young people out of the criminal justice system over the past decade. HCSO reports that the JAAP is responsible for decreasing the bookings in Hillsborough County's Juvenile Assessment Center from 8,433 in 2010 to 3,528 in 2019.

“The Juvenile Civil Citation program works. We’re proud to work alongside stakeholders from across our community to keep improving and expanding this program,” Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said. “We’re all committed to a simple but powerful idea — to do all we can to help make sure a child’s first encounter with the justice system is their last." 

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