Reform coming to Hillsborough juvenile justice system

- Hillsborough Chief Judge Ron Ficarrotta has seen it all on the bench.

He knows it's easy to get into the criminal justice system but its hard to get out.

"If you're young and you have an arrest record... you're going to be just washing cars and flipping burgers," said Ficarrotta.

But Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren is about to change that.

"Our local juvenile justice system is dysfunctional if not broken," said Warren.

He says it's time to reform the juvenile justice system with a new Civil Citation Program. And Warren brought along a few key partners to make it happen. Every police agency in the county, judges, and court officials are on board.

Hillsborough Public Defender Julie Holt has defended a lot of troubled kids. She says the key is to figure out what caused them to take a wrong turn in life.

"You're going to identify what led this child to be derailed from a normal everyday youthful life," said Holt.

"It will be up to the police officer on the street to decide whether or not the kid qualifies for the citation program," explained Tampa Assistant Chief Mark Hamlin. "This also gives officers, especially in the schools, a chance to mentor someone who may be going down the wrong path."

If they do, the parents will be contacted and, depending on the offense, their child will face sanctions that include anything from drug treatment to specialized classes. Hillsborough Sheriff Col. Donna Luscynski says that's an important part of the program.

"They need some help with their coping skills so that we prevent them from coming back into the system that's whats key," said Lusczynski.

There is a list of crimes that don't qualify for the program like domestic battery and reckless driving. Warren says he knows how the criminal justice system can swallow up a child for good.

"It scares you as a parent, it worries you as a tax payer. There's a lot of better and smarter things we can be doing to make the community safer," explained Warren.

The program will also save tax payers money. Warren says to prosecute and jail a kid costs around $55,000. To enroll them into the citation program costs $400.

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