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A Quick Explainer: The Latest Major Change to Central Florida's Juvenile Justice System

Photo: Joey Roulette.
Photo: Joey Roulette.

The latest effort to overhaul Florida’s juvenile justice system is now underway in Orange and Osceola counties. The state attorney’s office this week announced a new program that changes the way some kids with cases are processed into the system.

Here's a short explainer of what's happening:

  • The new program is called Project No/No, which stands for No Arrest, No Official Record. Under the new program, juvenile cases that do not involve a police arrest will be processed internally, or, within the state attorney’s office, rather than through the Clerk’s office. That’s where traditionally they’ve been issued case numbers that become official records.

What is the rationale behind the new program? 

  • For decades, non-arrest cases have been smaller nonviolent incidents. Whether kids involved in the cases were arrested or charged or assigned to serve time in a special program, the evidence of those childhood incidents would still follow them into adulthood in the form of the official records available through the clerk's office. This new program flips the script. 
  • “When it comes to juveniles, I think all of us want nothing more than to make an impact on that juvenile’s life; to set them on the right course so they can become good, productive adults,” said Terri Mills-Uvalle, juvenile bureau chief for the state attorney’s office.         

How exactly does the new process work?

  • The cases that would typically go to the clerk’s office are sent directly to the state attorney’s office. That’s where the case gets an internal number based on an internal numbering system. Then, a team of veteran attorneys review the particular case. They consider the incident, the child’s background, schooling, mental health, etc. They then decide whether or not to file charges or if there’s another option for the kid, such as one of Orange and Osceola counties many diversion programs (which are intended to keep kids out of the system). If the kid does end up charged, then the case is sent to the clerk’s office where it gets an official record.
  • This is the same way in which cases involving adults are processed by the state attorney's office.

Is this change related to the push toward civil citations in Orange and Osceola counties? 

  • Yes, it is part of the big-picture overhaul of the state's juvenile justice system. Since the civil citation program has been implemented in Orange and Osceola counties, there has been a major drop in juvenile arrests. Law enforcement agencies are now issuing tickets to kids who commit most nonviolent crimes. Some kids are being sent to diversion programs, as well.

Are other state attorney’s offices taking the same approach?

  • The Miami-Dade state attorney's office has been processing non-arrest juvenile cases internally since 2007. For kids who have been arrested and charged with misdemeanors, their records are expunged if they successfully complete the diversion programs.

Circling back to Orange County, do we know how many kids this new program could impact?

  • Project No No kicked off in April. So far 767 youth have been processed internally, according to the state attorney’s office. The new program could affect how the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice actually documents arrests, which could mean a change in the number of overall arrests in the region.