JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville drug court for juveniles could be in danger of being scaled back or shut down due to a large drop in the number of teens being referred there.
Some drug court supporters blame the office of State Attorney Angela Corey for the drop in referrals. Corey's office dismisses the claim.
The number of teens admitted to the program dropped from 92 in 2009 to 19 last year. He says so far this year, the numbers are about the same as in 2013, said Court Administrator Joe Stelma.
Successful completion of the program allows teens to get treatment and avoid a criminal record. It's funded with a $1.3 million federal grant that runs through 2016. The city of Jacksonville also contributes $108,000 annually.
Stelma said he got a phone call from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention a few weeks ago, alerting him that the grant is in danger of being revoked due to the low number of referrals.
"We don't understand why the numbers are down," Stelma said. "I think if we don't see a difference in the next six months, we'll be in real trouble."
Without the grant money, drug court officials say the program would have to be scaled back drastically.
"It can still function, but not at the same level it can with the grant funding," said Teri Roark, director of drug and mental health courts for the 4th Judicial Circuit.
"The annual funding from the city would not afford an opportunity for many of the needed services such as residential treatment, expanded drug testing and educational/vocational programs so services would be discontinued or, at minimum, significantly reduced.
Assistant Public Defender Richard Gordon said he doesn't understand why more people aren't being referred to the program.
"Everyone says we want this program, including the state attorney," he said. "And then they never send anybody."
Jackelyn Barnard, a spokeswoman for Corey, said the program isn't for every teenager who gets in trouble.
"Many times a juvenile declines to accept the rigorous drug court probation offer due to the fact they can receive a shorter sentence based upon the recommendation by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Under Florida law, juveniles can't be sent to the program without the consent of prosecutors.
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