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In the mid 1990’s, the arrest process for juveniles in Miami-Dade County, Florida was so dysfunctional that organized crime was using juveniles as its labor force and coaching them on how to “trick” the system. In an urban community of over 2 million, juvenile arrests hit 20,000 in 1995 with dire increases predicted. High profile and violent juvenile offenses were discouraging visitors from all over the world.

In an era where information holds the key, the only information authorities in Miami-Dade County had about the juvenile arrest population was the actual number of arrests. Even that information was difficult to obtain, with over thirty law enforcement agencies individually processing arrested juveniles. At this time, the Florida Legislature created language in the state statutes that established the concept of Juvenile Assessment Centers (JACs).

These facilities represent, first and foremost, arrest-processing centers that coordinate the different agencies that interface with arrested youth. As the JACs have developed and opened in Florida, the eighteen facilities reflect the needs and resources of the individual community in which they operate. Miami-Dade County’s needs dictated a large, comprehensive state-of-the-art facility designed to be the starting point for juvenile justice system reform.

The Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) opened in late 1997 as a community partnership under the leadership of the Miami-Dade Police Department. (In Miami-Dade County, the countywide police department serves fas the sheriff’s department. Miami-Dade County does not have an elected sheriff. This department is not to be confused with the City of Miami Police Department, which is a municipal department serving a population of 350,000.)

While the MDPD and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice provided the resources, all juvenile justice stakeholders were invited to be a member of the JAC Partnership. These Partners include the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the Florida Department of Children and Families, Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, Miami-Dade Public Schools, Miami-Dade Department of Corrections, Miami-Dade Department of Human Services, Miami-Dade Administrative Office of the Courts, Administrative Juvenile Judges, the Miami-Dade Office of the Clerk of the Court.

All partners, whether they are physically located at the JAC or not, have been active participants in the planning and implementation of all processes. During the intensive 3-year planning process to develop the JAC, one major goal was critical. The Miami-Dade JAC wanted to do more than simply process arrested juveniles.

The first year of operation was dedicated to the huge task of defining a new way of doing business. While contending with procedures, turf issues, and the sometimes difficult implementation of advanced technology, the collective agencies at the JAC achieved unprecedented efficiencies.

Previously, a process that could take up to six weeks for a non-detainable juvenile offender, can now take less than two hours. Police officers, formerly spending an average of six hours processing juveniles, are in and out of the JAC in an average of 15 minutes, including their pre-file conference with the State Attorney’s Office.

Livescan fingerprint technology and a multi-tiered identification process tell the JAC whether or not this is a juvenile’s first arrest. It allows the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to administer assessments to 100% of juveniles entering the system, which was not possible before the JAC.

The courts’ connection allows the case to be created in the JAC. Lastly, the complete cooperation of all law enforcement agencies through the Dade County Chiefs of Police permits this JAC to be the centralized point of entry into the system. This allows the Miami-Dade JAC to collect critical information on the complete juvenile arrest population.

In October 2002, the Miami-Dade Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) was made into an independent county department. This allowed the expansion of the JAC’s mission of processing arrested juveniles and in May 2005, the Miami-Dade Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC) became the Juvenile Services Department (JSD) to expand its scope to include services for at-risk youth.

National Demonstration Project

The Juvenile Services Department (JSD) operated a National Demonstration Project with the U.S. Department of Justice and numerous national researchers. The purpose of the demonstration project was to utilize proven research methods to reform an active, functioning juvenile justice system.

The project worked with a variety of juvenile offenders in order to strategically apply interventions to ultimately reduce the juvenile crime rate in a major urban area, historically plagued with a high juvenile crime rate.

The JSD also began a partnership in 2003 with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) that allowed ONDCP to utilize findings of the demonstration project in order to facilitate their goals' achievement of reducing substance abuse usage among adolescents in the United States.

The Post-Arrest Diversion (PAD) was the most critical component of the National Demonstration Project. First and foremost, it provided the JAC with a process that was independent from the normal way an arrested juvenile enters into the system. 

Back to Top Page Last Edited: Thu May 16, 2013 4:48:32 PM

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