Florida Teen Court – An Alternative to Florida Juvenile Court

What are some of the alternative programs available to juveniles in Florida? That's the question we asked Bill Umansky and Lindsay Grogley, both Florida attorneys who have been helping minors charged with crimes for over a decade. They explained how diversion programs such as Teen Court, as well as communicating their own personal experiences, can help troubled kids get back on track.

Florida diversion programs

Diversion programs, those which attempt to divert youthful offenders from the juvenile justice system in order to do more good than harm, may be available to Florida juveniles charged with first offenses – and even some charged with additional offenses, according to Umansky. He says that while the diversion programs are part of Florida's juvenile justice system, they are outside of the actual trial process – allowing the child an opportunity to have his or her charges dropped.

Florida's Teen Court is one of the few remaining programs that have survived budget cuts, according to Umansky, who explained how the program works:

Teen Court is a great program because it involves kids who get charged with first or second offenses. They have a trial in front of their peers (other kids who have been in trouble), are represented by a teen attorney or a teen prosecutor and get sentenced by their own peers.

The program works. It is very effective. The kids that do well in the program are the ones with some opportunity to get through high school and go on to college. It works for the kids who really take the message to heart, but often doesn’t work for hardened criminals or gang members as the program wasn't designed for them.

Teen Court is probably more about what the juvenile justice system is supposed to be about in the truest sense. That is, kids have to do some type of penalty for their crime, such as community service, writing letters of apology, providing restitution or attending anger or drug counseling – and at the end of the day, their charges may be dropped.

Communicating personal experience may be the best form of rehabilitation

Attorney Lindsay Grogley says that attorneys in their firm, and especially Bill Umansky himself, assist juveniles by communicating their personal experiences with troubled kids – which is oftentimes the best form of rehabilitation. She explained:

Bill will often sit down with these kids and tell them his own personal story. He feels that it’s very important for them to come into the office with their parents and sit down and speak to a lawyer and have to answer questions. When kids just come in and go out of a diversion program, without more, it really doesn't help the recidivism rate.

Treating these issues very seriously definitely has an impact on kids and we do our best to make that happen. I can tell you that we have kids that have gone through diversion programs that we never see again. However, I also currently have a couple of clients that started diversion programs and then re-offended a couple weeks later, so now they have two pending cases because they got kicked out of the program.

Contact a juvenile attorney 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.