By Anne Teigen
Florida’s civil citation program and a new juvenile probation paradigm that focuses on intervention and behavioral change were highlighted when lawmakers and legislative staff from eight southern states gathered in Savannah, Ga., in June for NCSL’s 2019 Juvenile Justice Southern Region site visit.
The meeting, convened through a partnership with NCSL and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, provided an opportunity for the group to learn about two successful local programs and the Florida civil citation program, and hear from national experts about a new juvenile probation paradigm that focuses on intervention and behavioral change.
The two-day gathering started by focusing on collaborative efforts among local government and community organizations in Savannah to create solutions both in the front and the back end of the system. First participants learned about The Front Porch, a multiagency resource center that diverts young people before they enter the system.
The charge of The Front Porch is to assist low-risk youth and their families in and around Savannah and connect them with services to reduce unneeded court contact. Chatham County Juvenile Court Judge LeRoy Burke points out that prevention is the key. “Public safety can be enhanced by addressing social issues before they become delinquency issues,” he says.
Participants of the site visit also learned about the Work Readiness Enrichment Program (WREP), which helps local Savannah boys ages 14 to 16 who been charged with felony-level or multiple property crimes and are disengaged or significantly behind grade level at school.
The young men, who have not responded well with traditional programming, have a team of staff that encourages cooperation and success. The young men have access to a dedicated full-time teacher, an educational advocate, and representatives from Goodwill Southeast Georgia who teach work readiness skills, including how to create a resume and fill out a job application. Older youth are connected to potential job opportunities to learn about financial literacy.
The group had the opportunity to meet with young people in the WREP program during a tour of Greenbriar Children’s Center, a WREP implementation site. The young men shared their experiences and why WREP was so important to them.
Before leaving, legislators and staff were treated to a gift from the WREP program, a book with artistic photographs taken by the young men with their phones and their poignant thoughts about how they see themselves and how the world sees them.
The meeting also featured in-depth presentations and discussion on Florida’s civil citation program, what state leaders need to know about the recently passed federal Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act, and how refashioning the juvenile probation system can make it a more strategic and effective intervention.
Anne Teigen is the program director for NCSL's Criminal Justice Program.