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Courts / Law

First-Time Hillsborough Juvenile Offenders Get More Leniency Under Changes To Program

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HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced changes that will provide more leniency for first-time juvenile offenders.

With a few exceptions, all misdemeanor juvenile offenses in Hillsborough County are now eligible for civil citations under the Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program.

First-time juvenile offenders who are arrested on certain misdemeanor counts will not have to face criminal charges under changes to a program announced by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the changes to the Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program that took effect on Sept. 1 are aimed at continuing to rehabilitate young offenders and helping them avoid the criminal justice system.

"We don't encourage bad behavior, but we understand children and teens make mistakes," Chronister said in a news release. "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."

Chronister made the announcement in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Office, and police departments from Plant City, Tampa, Tampa International Airport, Temple Terrace, and the University of South Florida.

Under the changes announced Thursday, all misdemeanor juvenile offenses are now eligible for civil citations in the program. Exceptions are charges of assault on a specified individual (school employee, detention officer or law enforcement officer), battery (domestic violence, except incidents involving family violence), driving under the influence, racing, and violations of injunctions.

"By ensuring this program reaches its full potential, we are changing the course of thousands of young people's lives,” Chronister said. "One bad decision should not haunt them into adulthood and prevent them from leading productive and fulfilling lives."

The program, established in 2010, allows for juvenile offenders to receive counseling and access other community resources that stress rehabilitation and “address the source of the problem,” according to the release.

The program has resulted in a decrease in the number of juveniles booked to Hillsborough County’s Juvenile Assessment Center. In 2010, the total was 8,433; in 2019, it was 3,528.

“The Juvenile Civil Citation program works,” Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said. “We’re proud to work alongside stakeholders from across our community to keep improving and expanding this program. 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."