Florida's Juvenile Justice Department Seeking Reform Suggestions

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PORT ST. JOE - Gulf County residents sat quietly as Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters talked about a major change, focusing more on prevention programs.

"These problems that allow people to become violent and so disregard authority and commit crimes and know that they're committing crimes, these things don't happen in a day," said Secretary Wansley Walters of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Florida's overall juvenile crime rate has gone down almost 25% in the last two years, but some believe the system dispenses unequal justice.

"The rate for African American males is high as far as incarceration," said Barry Hand, a Gulf County resident.

That's also a national problem. Some residents don't believe it an easily be fixed.

"This is where we really need the village again and I'm afraid that the village is coming apart," said Hand.

Another concern is Gulf County's strict zero tolerance policy for school related crimes.

"You see to just say you have to arrest every child that has what could be seen as a weapon without looking at the context of what it really is. I don't think that it does any of us any good," said Secretary Walters.

One alternative is issuing students civil citations for first time misdemeanor offenses.

The Bay County Rainbow Push Coalition chapter is supporting the same civil citation process in Bay District Schools.