Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Why More Juvenile Girls in Jail Here? Forum Offers Some Ideas; Group Points to Lack of Diversion Programs, Area's Get-Tough Attitude

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Why More Juvenile Girls in Jail Here? Forum Offers Some Ideas; Group Points to Lack of Diversion Programs, Area's Get-Tough Attitude

Article excerpt

Byline: Topher Sanders

The Jacksonville area consistently incarcerates more juvenile girls than other large cities in Florida because of a lack of diversion efforts and a "get tough" culture and attitude toward juveniles, said leaders of a policy group focused on girls' needs.

The comments were made after an event focused on the incarceration of juvenile girls. Nearly 100 people attended Wednesday's forum, which featured presentations from child advocates, a panel discussion and a reflection of the life experience of Biannela Susana, mother of Cristian Fernandez.

Lawanda Ravoira, president and CEO of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, told the crowd that Susana would be taking her college placement test and will begin working for the Weaver policy center full time in November.

Those in attendance applauded the news.

The event was sponsored by the Weaver policy center, which focuses on girls, a statewide group called Voices for Florida Girls and The Children's Campaign.

Weaver was in attendance and said the event was "wonderful."

"It told us a lot about what is going on but just as importantly what more we have to do," Weaver said.

Northeast Florida's 4th Circuit leads the state in the number of incarcerated girls in the most recent year, according to state figures. The region's number of incarcerated girls, ages 10-17, is more than in Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Broward combined.

Officials with the Weaver policy center said programs in Miami and Tampa are designed to help juveniles and their families engage in alternatives to incarceration. For example, a Miami program works to assess the needs of girls, whereas a similar program in Jacksonville is underfunded and only assesses a juvenile's risk to re-offend instead of exploring root causes.

"So we just lock her up because she has a risk to re-offend," said Lawanda Ravoira, president and CEO of the policy center.

In Tampa there is a mental health court to help with juvenile cases, said Ravoira, but Jacksonville doesn't have such a court.

"If there's a person who needs mental health services [in Tampa] those services are available right in the courtroom," Ravoira said. …

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