Florida's Juvenile Justice System: How Does It Work?

Florida's juvenile justice system focuses on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment. However, legal experts say that while the system is supposed to avoid making the child feel as though they're a a criminal for the rest of their lives, it often doesn't work that way.

The theory behind Florida's juvenile justice system

Florida's juvenile justice system was developed over a hundred years ago to deal with what’s called wards of the state, according to Bill Umansky, a Florida attorney who has been helping minors charged with crimes for over a decade . He says that kids were getting into trouble, so the government developed a system to deal specifically with children – as opposed to adults – in criminal procedures. He explained:

Basically, by giving them a system that would focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment, that would focus on getting children help as opposed to labeling them for the rest of their lives – almost like the scarlet letter.

Florida's philosophy of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate the child. Unfortunately, the system doesn't work that way in reality and can sometimes be a bit of joke. Instead of labeling them a criminal or convicting them, they label them as a delinquent – the theory being that since it’s not truly a criminal charge, the child won’t have to feel like he’s a criminal for the rest of his life.

A broken system?

Umansky says that system, while well-meaning, is broken. He told us:

If [a child is] adjudicated on what’s called an adult or violent offense, that charge can follow him. People can still obtain access to it. There are other charges, such as smaller misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, that stay within the system where no access is possible. However, in the Internet age, what we’ve found is that employers, the military and the U.S. government still get access to that information – even if it wasn't supposed to be released.

In the end, Umansky says that there’s a balancing system that has to be put in play in Florida between the child's right to privacy and the public's right to know. “We don't want the child’s life to be ruined, especially if we can rehab him and put him on the right track.”

Contact a juvenile lawyer in your state to find out what programs are available to you or your child. Initial consultations are strictly confidential, without obligation and are generally free of charge.