In 2012, the federal government awarded $1.4 million to the Juvenile Drug Court program. Juvenile Drug Court defers children from being prosecuted in Jacksonville juvenile court in order to receive help for drug problems and drug abuse. “The Juvenile Drug Court program is meant to rehabilitate young offenders. But currently only 11 juvenile offenders are signed up to get treatment.” This is participation rate is extremely low. “Now the program could potentially lose funding if more at-risk children and teens don’t get referred.”
The Public Defender’s Office handles more criminal cases than any other Jacksonville criminal law firm. This includes a large amount of Jacksonville juvenile criminal cases. Richard Gordon is the director of problem solving court for the Public Defender’s Office.” He spoke about the lack of children and teens in drug court. Gordon “said it’s not that there aren’t enough cases.” He further stated, “The problem we are having is we are not getting any referrals. In the past, we would see two to three referrals each week. Now we haven’t had two referrals in the last two months.”
Fox 30 News in Jacksonville reported on the reason there is such a low number of children being referred to Juvenile Drug Court in Duval County:
“According to the Public Defender’s Office, of the 11 juveniles currently in the program, only two have been referred by the State Attorney’s Office. But the program has the ability to serve at least 60 every year. Gordon said the State Attorney’s Office is getting in the way. ‘Everybody says we’re on board, this is a wonderful program, but the referrals from the State Attorney’s Office just aren’t coming forward,’ said Gordon.”
The Duval County State Attorney’s office responded about the lack of Juvenile Drug Court referrals. “The director of Juvenile Drug Court for the State Attorney’s Office, Julie Taylor, said there’s a reason for that. ‘As a prosecutor, I’ve actually stood outside the courtroom and tried to convince a juvenile myself to go through drug court. He told me no, he didn’t want to, because he didn’t want to do such a difficult program,’ said Taylor.”
One of the ways that this problem can be solved is by changing the Florida juvenile law that applies to drug court for children. Gordon stated, “The solution is to allow the judges to send cases to juvenile drug court over the state objection, much like we can do with adult drug court.” The Public Defender for Duval, Clay, and Nassau Counties “is working with legislators in Tallahassee to get the juvenile statute amended to allow judges to send cases to juvenile drug court without approval of the State Attorney’s Office.”
As a Jacksonville criminal lawyer and juvenile attorney, I believe that a change in the law would be beneficial. It does not mean that any child or teen would be permitted to enter the program. Instead, it would allow judges to listen to arguments from both sides and make a decision. If the judge decides that the child would not be a good candidate for the program, he or she may deny the request. Why not allow judges to have another avenue to help rehabilitate children in our community?