Understanding the Juvenile Justice System

Girls may come into contact with law enforcement in the community or, school as a result of behavior(s) that are violations of the law (e.g., fighting/battery, drug offenses or theft). There may be other circumstances where girls can be taken into custody (arrested) if they had previous involvement in the juvenile justice system and violated the terms of their probation (e.g. didn’t attend school, ran away or failed a drug test) or didn’t show up to court.

First-time misdemeanor offenders are eligible for a civil citation.  In this case, a youth is not arrested but requires follow-up with specialized intervention services.

What happens when a girl gets arrested?

In many instances, following an arrest the girl will be taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center for processing and assessment of risk and needs. Parent/guardians will be notified. The child will be given the Detention Risk Assessment Instrument to determine if she meets the criteria for secure detention until her detention hearing.  Depending on the results of this assessment  she can either be:

What if formal charges have been filed?

In the juvenile court system, the State Attorney’s office can drop charges “nolprossed” and the case will not go to court.

The State Attorney’s office can also divert a child from the judicial system through programs which, if successfully completed, can the child out of the juvenile justice system.

The State Attorney’s office can also transfer the case to the adult system depending on the severity of the charge and prior offenses.

If formal charges are filed (e.g., felony, misdemeanor) in the juvenile system, there will be an arraignment hearing during which youth may enter a plea of guilty, not guilty or no contest.  Parents/guardians are required to attend. The court may appoint a public defender if a private attorney is not retained.

Next, there will be an adjudicatory hearing where the court determines if the facts support the allegation(s) made against the youth, and if the youth is guilty of  the delinquent act. The court must find that a youth is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. At the formal disposition hearing, the court determines the sanctions, conditions and services imposed on a youth who has committed a delinquent act.  At this stage, the following can occur:

Girls’ Juvenile Justice Facilities

In Florida, there are 10 residential programs for girls in low, moderate and high-risk facilities across the state.  She may or may not be placed in a facility that is close to home. There will be a Department of Juvenile Justice commitment staffing to make recommendations about placement to the judge given the results of the youth’s comprehensive evaluation.  She may have to stay in detention until a bed is available at her residential placement.

Important Links

To learn more about juvenile justice definitions, please refer to Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice Glossary of Terms.

Visual flow chart of DJJ’s Juvenile Justice Process





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