Juvenile justice system ready for an overhaul

01/21/10 Joshua Lee Holton
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Hillsborough County has one of the highest juvenile arrest rates in the country, and transferred more juveniles to the adult system than any other county from 2007 to 2008. County Commissioner Kevin Beckner plans to change that with a new task force to overhaul the juvenile justice system.

Juvenile offenders of all levels are costing Hillsborough County $8.3 million annually. Cities like Miami have greatly improved their juvenile justice systems in recent years, leading Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner to seek their advice on how Hillsborough might use the community as a resource to deter crime. Other commissioners wanted more time to consider who might comprise the new juvenile justice task force.

Wansley Walters is the Director of the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department, which has reduced juvenile arrests 41% between 1998 and 2007. Beckner sought her expertise in reforming the local juvenile justice system. Walters says that there are ways to engage the family to prevent juveniles from becoming repeat offenders.

She said that families are instrumental in making sure that problems are dealt with after the first arrest.

Engaging the community is one of the ways that Walter says can provide services to both the juvenile and the family.

A member of the Hillsborough County Service Advisory Board criticized Beckner’s proposed task force. Janet Murphy complained that the task force was almost entirely composed of government officials or agencies, and that a juvenile justice overhaul should include more community involvement.

The council voted unanimously to take up the issue again in the beginning of March, but Beckner says that the county can’t keep putting off protecting the children.

One of the faith-based community groups suggested for providing support to convicted juveniles was Pastors on Patrol, but more community groups will likely be included in the task force in the coming months.

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