~/history History | Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
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Learn about the history of the juvenile justice system in Florida.

Florida has traditionally managed juveniles under a "rehabilitative" model of justice. This traces back to the time when all "proceedings relating to children" were under the auspices of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, formerly known as HRS. The agency's approach to dependency cases and delinquency cases were the same -- provide social services to the child and the family. In accordance with Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes, HRS addressed many different types of actions involving children, ranging from dependency actions in child abuse cases to delinquency proceeding for juveniles charged with criminal acts.

The first of Florida's gradual efforts to shift the state's juvenile justice system away from a social services model occurred in 1994. The Legislature created the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), providing for the transfer of powers, duties, property, records, personnel, and unexpended balances of related appropriations and other funds from the HRS Juvenile Justice Program Office to the new agency. DJJ was assigned responsibility for juvenile delinquency cases and children and families in need of services (CINS/FINS) cases. Juvenile justice provisions, which were then found in Chapter 39, F.S., remained virtually unchanged and most of the new agency's employees were former employees of HRS. Hence, philosophically, DJJ continued to approach juveniles as children in need of treatment and reform rather than criminals deserving punishment.

A further distancing of DJJ from its HRS origins occurred in 1997. Although few changes were made to substantive law, two new chapters in the Florida Statutes were created by transferring juvenile justice provisions from Chapter 39, F.S., to the newly created Chapters 984 and 985. Chapter 984, F.S., was created to contain provisions relating to CINS/FINS and Chapter 985, F.S., was created to contain provisions relating to juvenile delinquency cases.

In 2000, comprehensive legislation, known as the "Tough Love" plan, provided statutory authority for DJJ to overhaul its organizational structure. This legislation signified the most dramatic policy shift away from the social services model and toward a punitive criminal justice approach. However, even under the "Tough Love" plan, the juvenile justice system continued to be operationally and philosophically distinct from the adult criminal justice system. Florida continues to segregate juveniles from their adult counterparts, although there has been an expansion of the circumstances under which a juvenile can be prosecuted as an adult. Youth continue to be managed under a strategy of redirection and rehabilitation, rather than punishment. Although the State strengthened its hold on juvenile delinquents under the "Tough Love" plan, the system maintained focus on "treatment" designed to effect positive behavioral change.

As a result of the "Tough Love" plan, DJJ shifted away from HRS service district structure to a structure that conformed to the boundaries of the 20 judicial circuits. Additionally, the Department is charged under s. 985.02(3), F.S., with developing and coordinating comprehensive services and programs statewide for the prevention, early intervention, control, and rehabilitative treatment of delinquent behavior. Accordingly, DJJ is organized in five program offices: Administrative Services, Prevention and Victim Services, Detention Services, Probation and Community Intervention, and Residential Services.

In July 2007, Governor Charlie Crist authorized the creation of the Blueprint Commission, which was charged with developing recommendations to improve Florida's juvenile justice system. The findings and recommendations of the Blueprint Commission, developed with input from juvenile justice stakeholders and citizens, were used as a guide when the Department then developed a strategic plan designed to achieve the changes needed to meet its mission. The Department's Strategic Plan builds on the foundation of the Blueprint Commission's report "Getting Smart about Juvenile Justice in Florida." In preparing its Strategic Plan, the Department initiated a process of continuous strategic thinking and planning that will produce not just one strategic plan, but a sequence of plans. Such plans will keep pace with the changing needs and priorities of juvenile justice in Florida.

The Department initiated a process of continued evaluation of implementation in order to achieve the goals outlined in the Strategic Plan. The Department of Juvenile Justice's Implementation Plan for 2008‐09 through 2011‐12 was built upon the 13 goals and 43 objectives outlined in the agency’s Strategic Plan. The Implementation Plan details specific actions that will be taken to achieve the goals and objectives including tasks, outcomes, partnering relationships, budgeting, resource allocations, and timelines.