• Program aims to keep young offenders out of court, jail


    ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Law enforcement officials in Orange and Osceola counties are starting a new program aimed at juvenile offenders.

    With courthouse resources spread thin in the two counties the State Attorney's office and local law officers will try something new next month.

    Instead of sending first time juvenile offenders through the cumbersome criminal system for minor crimes, slightly troubled kids will get a break and save the juvenile justice system lots of money.

    “We know that for many kids, their first brush with the law will be their last,” said State Attorney Lawson Lamar.

    Lamar announced the change Monday morning. He said police on the street will now have the option of writing a ticket, rather than make an arrest.

    The program will reduce the burden at all levels of the criminal justice system by allowing law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and probation officers to focus on the serious and violent offenders.

    Police will be able to write a ticket for an offense, but the offender must agree to accept the ticket.

    Parents can opt out of accepting the ticket if they want their child to take the tougher route for crimes like vandalism and shoplifting.

    The civil citation will require things like restitution, community service and courses to correct juvenile behavior.  These are much cheaper than tying up the court system, according to officials.

     “We see many, many children mess up and many of them don't need to go deeper into the juvie justice system,” said Secretary Wansley Walters of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

    One reason the new program is attractive, prosecutors say, is that juvenile crime is way down.

    Lamar said, this year the Orlando Juvenile Assessment Center is processing fewer offenders  than any time in its 18-year history.

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