Hillsborough BOCC Adopts Juvenile Justice Task Force

03/03/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Today, the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners voted five-to-one to form the Juvenile Justice Task Force, a concept commissioner Kevin Beckner brought before the board to deal with rampant youth crime. The force will likely consist of law enforcement agencies, related nonprofits, and members of the public. Beckner said that he hopes to keep thousands of at-risk minors from becoming too familiar with the criminal justice system.

[“The whole purpose of this task force is to address the growing epidemic of the amount of youth in our community and our nation that we are losing to the juvenile justice system. As a community we must come together to find solutions to help break the cycle that is fostering juvenile delinquency and eventually propelling our youth into the criminal justice system and a life on crime.”]

Beckner noted that the economic climate is causing people from across political spectrum to question the wisdom of pumping so many dollars into the criminal justice system when addressing youth crime may be a way to prevent overall crime in the future.

[“Addressing our crime issues by building more prisons is like trying to cure a fatal disease by building more graveyards. This approach that we have been taking has fiscally constrained our local and state governments, and has sent a message of abandonment to our at-risk youth and their families. And even our governor and state lawmakers are beginning to recognize that we have to start doing things differently.”]

Governor Charlie Crist, who has a reputation for being tough on crime, recently said that he embraces inmate rehabilitation amid a tight budget. Beckner’s task force was inspired by a program implemented in Miami-Dade County. The program there focuses on intervention and rehabilitation rather than locking offenders up. Miami-Dade saw a 41 percent reduction in youth arrests between 1998 and 2007 after implementing the program. Tampa Chief of Police Jane Castor said that the current system is failing Hillsborough youth by not being proactive in preventing repeat offenses.

[“The system doesn’t have any consequences for juvenile offenders. And what happens is, they commit a myriad of crimes with no consequence and the first punishment they face is adult prison. And no one is going to benefit from that. So I think that we need to put our minds and our money towards looking at best practices and procedures so that we can help the juveniles – provide the services that they need to help them avoid the juvenile justice system.”]

Hillsborough County spends around 8.3 million dollars a year to house juvenile criminals. In Fiscal Year 2008, the county saw more than eleven thousand juvenile delinquency cases, which is one of the highest of such rates in the state. During today’s public comment session, activist Michelle Patty said she lost a son to youth violence in 1996 and that local government can prevent juvenile crime by funding activities like after school programs.

[“Out in Valrico, over a hundred homes were spray painted. But if you ask those children why they were out there doing that” ‘I don’t know. We don’t have anything to do. Nowhere to go.’”]

The task force will consist of city and county law enforcement agencies as well as youth and crime-oriented nonprofits, religious groups, and other stakeholder groups. Former Hillsborough Democratic Executive Committee chair Janee Murphy said that the state lawmakers should have some representation within the task force, and that the county needs to look out for nonprofits that might try to get involved for self-gain.

Commissioner Kevin White suggested that the task force include former at-risk youths, to whom juvenile criminals may be able to better-relate.

Beckner admitted that the program may face challenges when it comes to funding, though no hard estimates on the program’s costs have been released. Commissioner Jim Norman cast the only dissenting vote on the motion to form the juvenile justice task force. He said that the board needs representation within the task force.

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