Program expands to help non-violent juvenile offenders stay out of jail

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Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister says he believes in second chances. In front of several law enforcement agencies and members of the judicial community, he announced the expansion of the county's Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program.

First-time offenders under the age of 18 can avoid arrest, instead receiving a civil citation, plus a variety of alternative sanctions including counseling and drug treatment. 

"Out of more than 200 misdemeanor charges a juvenile can face in Hillsborough County, now just five offenses are ineligible for our diversion program," said Chronister. 

Those five offenses not eligible are battery, assault on a specified official, violation of injunction, driving under the influence, and racing. 

Originally launched in 2017, the program has been utilized by almost a thousand juveniles a year. 

"This new civil citation program, in the first 18 months, has reduced recidivism among the civil citation program by about 67%," said state attorney Andrew Warren.

Chronister says additional bed space has been made available at the county's Lake Magadelene facility, and there will be more access to counselors, treatment, and other resources as a result of this expansion. 

"We know that youth who are arrested for minor crimes are twice as likely to re-offend, versus those who are diverted," said Chronister. "Since the inception, the use of the Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program has continued to grow." 

Both law enforcement and the judicial community hope it will make them more productive citizens in the long run.