Does Florida have a flawed juvenile justice system?

On Behalf of | Apr 21, 2022 | blog, Juvenile Crimes

If a Florida law enforcement officer arrests your teenager, you may not even know about it unless your child chooses to tell you about this distressing situation and his or her consequent court date. Why? Because Florida has what many officers refer to as a “catch and release” program regarding alleged juvenile offenders.

As reported by News Channel 8, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice instituted a Detention Risk Assessment Instrument in 2017. When officers arrest a juvenile, they must use this scorecard to determine whether they can take the teen into custody.

How it works

The DRAI is a point system based on various factors, including the following:

  • The juvenile’s age
  • The severity of his or her alleged crime
  • His or her number of prior arrests

If the total number of points fails to meet a certain minimum standard, the officer must issue a citation that includes a court date and let the juvenile go.

Law enforcement criticism

Officers across the state almost universally criticize the DRAI system, saying that it allows dangerous juveniles to walk away free rather than holding them accountable for their alleged crimes. They cite such examples as the following:

  • In Volusia County, a 14-year-old girl and her companion fired a shotgun, an AK-47 and other weapons at sheriff’s deputies for 35 minutes, but officers could not take her into custody despite her troubled prior record.
  • In Polk County, 53 juveniles arrested in just one day had priors.
  • In St. Petersburg, officers arrested a 16-year-old 22 times for such alleged crimes as burglary, auto theft and carjacking, but had to let him go each time.

DOJJ position

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice nevertheless stands by the DRAI, stating that nearly 67% of teens arrested for a first-time misdemeanor since its inception never face arrest again. In addition, Florida has seen a 29% decrease in teen felony arrests over this same period.