Sunday, October 21, 2007

Panel visits Southwest Florida to look at reasons for juvenile crime

By ANN MARINA, Daily News Correspondent

Originally published — 3:19 p.m., October 20, 2007
Updated — 10:03 p.m., October 20, 2007

Felony offenses committed by juveniles in Florida increased by 4 percent over the last two years, and the number of youths being transferred to adult courts rose sharply, by 17 percent this past year.

To address the increase in crime and other key concerns for at-risk juveniles, public hearings were held in the Bonita Springs area this past week by the Florida Blueprint Commission for Youth.

Created by the Department of Juvenile Justice, the commission has 25 members who are community leaders and policy experts. Six public hearings are being held throughout the state this fall, and the commission will make its recommendations to Gov. Charlie Crist in December.

Commission Chairman Frank Brogan is Florida Atlantic University’s president and is a former lieutenant governor.

“We’re looking at what’s being done well, and what needs to change,” Brogan told commissioners, professionals, and community members gathered as the hearing began Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero.

“The success of this commission depends on participation from those familiar with juvenile justice concerns in your community,” Brogan said.

Juvenile recidivism, the over-representation of minority youths in detention, and an increasing rate of girls entering the justice system are some of the issues being examined by the Blueprint Commission.

One of the youngest speakers at the public hearing was Nathaniel Young, 19. A resident of Palm Beach County, Young recently graduated from the Broward Intensive Halfway House. He’s currently attending ATI Vocational and Community College in West Palm Beach, working toward a career in air conditioning and refrigeration.

Young is also studying business administration, and would like to have his own business.

“What helped me stay out of trouble was finding a trade I enjoy and getting excited about my positive future,” Young said. “Kids need confidence and support to develop career goals. I’m glad I was encouraged to pursue my interests.”

“Zero tolerance” is another issue currently under scrutiny by the Blueprint Commission. Under this policy, a student possessing any drug or weapon on a public school campus may be arrested and possibly expelled and charged with a crime.

“Since the enforcement of zero tolerance, there’s been a spike in juvenile misdemeanor arrests in Florida,” Brogan said. “The way the policy is interpreted and enforced has brought many young people into the juvenile justice system, causing them to be labeled as criminals for life.”

Some schools are now making adjustments in their handling of the zero tolerance policy, Brogan said.

“Many communities have responded to the effects of the policy and are finding ways to keep schools safe by dealing with chronic offenders while striving to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system,” he said.

Cynthia Noonan serves on the Juvenile Justice Council in Indian River County, and works with EdOptions, a private company providing educational products for alternative study programs.

“Kids who drop out of school are more likely to develop delinquent behavior,” she said. “I encourage the Blueprint Commission to address dropout prevention and support after-school programs.”

Between 3 p.m and 6 p.m. on weekdays, there’s a peak in crimes committed by youth.

Noonan attributes this to the “latch-key kid” syndrome, where children come home from school to an empty house.

“We have so many single-parent families now, and many parents work two jobs,” she said.

Bill Naylor, manager of the Lee County sheriff’s Juvenile Assessment Center, thinks more parental involvement would help reduce the juvenile crime rate.

“We processed about 5,000 youth at our center during 2006,” he said. “I see many parents and agencies reacting, instead of responding. We need to develop relationships with our youth, and make better efforts at prevention.”

“Jail does not rehabilitate a kid, as some parents seem to think it does,” Naylor added. “Rather, it puts them in with other kids who are in trouble, and increases their chances of committing more crimes.”

Jeff Shicks directs a youth program in Fort Myers called The Bridge.

“We did an informal poll of kids in the area, and the main complaints we heard were that their parents don’t spend time with them, or they don’t listen to them,” he said. “We try to provide the support and quality time that some youth are lacking at home.”


Contact Ann Marina at

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