HistoryIn February, 2009, Commissioner Kevin Beckner formed an informal workgroup consisting of representatives from the 13th Circuit Court, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Department of Juvenile Justice, Juvenile Justice Board, HC Children's Services, HC Criminal Justice Liaison, NAACP and other members of the community. This workgroup came together to address the issue of disproportionate minority contact of juveniles with the criminal justice system and the use of juvenile diversion and intervention programs with non-violent juvenile offenders. Disproportionate minority contact is the disproportionate number of juvenile members of minority groups who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.
Youth in Hillsborough CountyIn fiscal year 2007 - 2008, there were approximately 134,404 youth between the ages of 10 and 17 in Hillsborough County. White youth comprised about 49% of the total youth population, Hispanic youth 25%, and Black youth 22%. During that same time period, there were a total of 11,994 referrals received into the juvenile justice system. Black youth accounted for 50% of the referrals, white youth 32%, and Hispanic youth 17%.
Juvenile & Criminal Justice System Statistics
As discussions and research towards solutions continued throughout the year, additional troubling statistics and facts about our juvenile and criminal justice system surfaced:
- In fiscal year 2008 - 2009, Hillsborough County had 11,126 delinquency referrals into the juvenile justice system, which ranks as one of the highest per capita referral rates in the state. Of these referrals, 69% were for misdemeanor or other offenses not considered felonies i.e. petit theft, criminal mischief, trespassing, simple assault/ battery, disorderly conduct, affray, simple possession of alcohol.
- In fiscal year 2008 - 2009, Hillsborough County transferred 673 juvenile delinquency referrals into the adult court system, ranking number one in the state.
- Annual commitments to Florida State prisons have steadily increased over 42% from fiscal years 1998 to 2008 while the population of Florida has increased only 19%. In fiscal year 2007 - 2008, Hillsborough County committed the most adults to prison in the state of Florida with 3,903 commitments.
- Predisposition costs for detention in Hillsborough County have soared beyond $8.3 million the last three years. To date, Hillsborough County has fallen far short of the projected number, yet the utilization rate has not changed.
- Floridians pay $280 a day for detention based on a formula cost set by the Department of Juvenile Justice. By comparison, HCSO detention cost for an adult is $78.50 per day.
- To house one inmate in the Florida State Prison System costs taxpayers about $20,000 per year. The average prison sentence is 4.6 years. This means that, when Hillsborough County committed 3,903 to prison in fiscal year 2007-2008, it created an estimated financial burden of over $359,000,000 to tax payers statewide over the next five years. This does not include the cost to prepare the inmate for reentry into our community or the additional economic and social costs to the community if the inmate returns and reoffends. 32.8% of all released inmates return to prison in three years or less.
Suggestions Derived from the Statistics
- Our sheriff, local municipal law enforcement agencies, our prosecutor, and courts should be commended for their proactive efforts to crack down on crime and keep our community safe from dangerous criminals. Let it be very clear that we must and will continue to be tough on crime by aggressively arresting and prosecuting dangerous individuals who threaten the safety and security of our community. This taskforce will not be bringing back recommendations that could potentially jeopardize or diminish the safety of our youth or citizens.
- We have failed to comprehensively address the real key to crime prevention which is early childhood intervention. Research has indicated that the seeds that spawn most juvenile delinquents and eventually career criminals begin to take root during early childhood. Studies show that youth who commit delinquent acts do so for one of three reasons:
- They are generally good kids with minimal or no serious personal life or family issues but just do something stupid (act on a peer “dare,” steal a candy bar, commit minor school altercation, etc.)
- They are acting out because of mild to serious personal life or family issues they are facing or have experienced (i.e. parental divorce, absent parents, personal or family substance abuse, physical / emotional / sexual abuse, etc.)
- They have very serious, deep rooted issues and most likely, for the safety of the youth and community, need to receive meaningful treatment in a secured detention facility.
- Research has shown and other counties, such as Miami-Dade, have proven that early intervention, comprehensive evidence-based assessments, and diversion programs for non-violent juvenile offenders can reduce juvenile crime and, over time, reduce the number of individuals who become career criminals and are committed to prison. These efforts save tax dollars that can be reinvested in education and other initiatives to help our youth become more constructive and productive citizens.
Achieving Our Goals
Through a comprehensive, holistic task force, we will address the above issues and achieve our goals:
- Comprehensively review and assess the current structure of the Hillsborough County Juvenile Justice System and services. Tasks would include identifying, mapping, etc.; all current related agencies, services, their structure and functions, etc.; coordination with one another, etc.
- Provide comprehensive recommendations that will accomplish the following:
- Reduce non-violent juveniles’ contact with the criminal justice system while maintaining and enhancing the safety of our children and citizens in our community
- Focus on prevention and early intervention
- Address the issue of disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system
- Provide comprehensive services to at-risk children and their families that will help build and maintain a stronger family unit
- Create a continuum of care for at-risk youth
- Create economic efficiencies in the agencies and service providers that impact juvenile justice and services