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Florida Youthful Offender Act

The Florida Youthful Offender Act provides adult trial courts with alternative ways to sentence young adult offenders under the age of 21. These offenders can no longer be safely sentenced as juveniles but require more supervision than community programs offer. The Legislature adopted the Florida Youthful Offender Act in 1978 to give young adults opportunities to successfully return to the community through "vocational, educational, counseling, or public service opportunities."

If you are between the ages of 18 and 21 and have been charged with a crime in Palm Beach County, Florida, contact a criminal defense attorney at Noble Law.

Qualifications to Participate in Florida Youthful Offenders Program

Not every young adult offender qualifies for sentencing under the Florida Youthful Offender Act. The law specifies that the offender must meet the following criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years of age or have been transferred from the juvenile court for prosecution in the circuit court.
  • Be under 21 years of age at the time of sentencing.
  • Plead guilty, plead nolo contendere, or be found guilty by a judge or jury of a felony, excluding capital and life felonies.
  • Have not previously been sentenced as a youthful offender.

The defendant and his attorney have the opportunity to present information to the court in a pre-sentence investigation report regarding why the defendant should be declared a youthful offender. The victim, or the victim's legal guardian if the victim is a minor, and the state also has a chance to review this information.

If the court does not declare the defendant a youthful offender, the Department of Corrections may do so at a later date. The Department of Corrections may declare an offender a youthful offender if the offender is either (1) under 24 years of age and has a sentence of less than 10 years; or (2) under 19 years of age, has a sentence of more than 10 years, and is considered a vulnerable inmate.

Sealing Records & Florida Youthful Offender Act

The Florida Youthful Offender Act specifies that youthful offender records are treated the same as other adult criminal records. They are not sealed like juvenile records, so they are discoverable as allowed by Florida law. This may include information about the youthful offender's arrest, indictment, and trial.

Sentencing under the Florida Youthful Offender Act

The Florida Youthful Offender Act limits the sentencing options a judge can impose. Options include:

  • Up to six years of probation or in a community control program. This cannot exceed the maximum sentence for the offense and does not require an adjudication of guilt.
  • Up to 364 days of incarceration. This may be in a county detention facility, a department probation and restitution center, or a public or private community residential facility.
  • A split sentence that includes a specified period of incarceration followed by probation or a community control program. Incarceration must be at least one year and cannot exceed four years. The combined period of incarceration and probation or in a community control program cannot exceed six years.
  • Up to six years in Department of Corrections custody. This time period cannot exceed the maximum sentence for the offense.

Required Participation under the Florida Youthful Offender Act

Once an offender has been sentenced as a youthful offender, the Florida Youthful Offenders Act requires participation in some activities during incarceration. These include:

  • An evaluation and needs assessment
  • Educational programs
  • Career or job training
  • Life and socialization skills training, including anger and aggression control
  • Pre-release planning
  • Transition services.

The Legislature passed the Florida Youthful Offender Act to rehabilitate young offenders so they can successfully return to the community, but this process requires the youthful offender's active participation. 

The Department of Corrections' Obligations

While a youthful offender is incarcerated, the Department of Corrections must have additional services available for the offender to participate in, if he chooses. These include:

  • Religious services
  • Substance abuse treatment and counseling
  • Psychological or psychiatric services
  • Library services
  • Medical and dental care
  • Athletic, recreational, or leisure time activities
  • Mail
  • Visiting privileges.

Basic Training Program under the Florida Youthful Offender Act

Due to prison overcrowding, the Florida Youthful Offender Act provided for the creation of a basic training program. The program's intention is to divert youthful offenders from long periods of incarceration through a short “shock” incarceration, which the Legislature believes will deter them from future crimes just as effectively as a long incarceration.

A young adult sentenced as a youthful offender may serve a minimum of 120 days in this program.

Participating in Activities under the Basic Training Program

According to Section 958.045, Florida Statutes (2018), the basic training program is a structured disciplinary program that includes

  • marching drills,
  • calisthenics,
  • a rigid dress code,
  • manual labor assignments,
  • physical training with obstacle courses,
  • training in decision making and personal development,
  • high school equivalency diploma and adult basic education courses, and
  • drug counseling and other rehabilitation programs.

Qualifying to Participate in the Basic Training Program

To qualify for admission to the basic training program, the youthful offender must not have any impairments or physical limitations that prevent participation in strenuous physical activities. He also cannot previously have been incarcerated in any state or federal incarceration facility. If the youthful offender meets these criteria and space is available, the Department of Corrections asks the sentencing court in writing for approval for the youthful offender to participate in the basic training program.

Upon admittance to the basic training program, each youthful offender receives a full substance abuse assessment, which determines his need for treatment. He also receives an education assessment. If he has not received his high school diploma, the youthful offender is enrolled in an adult education course to earn it. Additionally, he receives vocational training and career assessments.

Consequences for Bad Behavior

If the basic training program cannot manage the youthful offender, he may lose his gain-time and spend up to 30 days in disciplinary confinement. Except in cases involving a violent act or threats of a violent act, after disciplinary confinement, the youthful offender may rejoin the program. The time spent in disciplinary confinement does not count towards time served.

Community Release Program under the Florida Youthful Offender Act

After a youthful offender successfully completes the basic training program, he transfers to a community residential program or another program deemed suitable by the Department of Corrections. The Department of Corrections considers the youthful offender's family situation, employment, residence, and probation obligations when making plans after basic training so the youthful offender has the best chance of successfully returning to his or her community after completing the program.

The youthful offender is required to maintain gainful employment during his time in the community release program and pay restitution to the victim if so ordered by the court. These funds may also be used to defray a portion of the cost of incarceration, supervision, or counseling if ordered by the court. Any additional money is placed in a bank account for the youthful offender to access upon his release.

If needed, the youthful offender may attend substance abuse counseling and adult education classes to obtain a high school diploma while in a community release program.

Extension of Limits of Confinement

The Florida Youthful Offender Act provides rules permitting the youthful offender to leave his place of confinement when his supervisor believes the youthful offender will honor the limits placed on him.

Reasons that a youthful offender may leave his place of confinement include:

  • Visiting a dying relative
  • Attending a relative's funeral
  • Arranging for employment after confinement
  • Arranging for housing after confinement
  • Participating in educational or training programs
  • Working at paid employment
  • Performing community service
  • Other compelling reasons as determined by the Department of Corrections.

Any youthful offender convicted of sexual battery is not eligible to have limits on his confinement.

The youthful offender's supervising agency must maintain detailed written records regarding limits on the youthful offender's confinement.

Consequences for Failure to Honor Limits of Confinement

When the youthful offender has an extension on his limits of confinement to work at paid employment or perform community service, he must be confined other than his time at work and travel time. If he willfully does not return at the designated time, this is considered escape from the custody of the Department of Corrections. This is a felony in the third degree.

When Transfer to a State Adult Correctional Facility is Warranted

In some cases, the Department of Corrections may send a youthful offender to a state adult correctional facility. Reasons that allow this type of transfer include the following:

  • The youthful offender is convicted of a new felony offense.
  • The youthful offender has seriously violated the Department of Correction's rules and has become a management or disciplinary problem detrimental to the program and other inmates.
  • The youthful offender needs medical treatment or other health services not available at the facility.
  • The youthful offender requires protective management of medical or mental health conditions.
  • The Department of Corrections has determined the youthful offender should be transferred out of the state correctional system for services not available in Florida.
  • Bed space is not available in a youthful offender facility or program.

The Florida Youthful Offenders Act requires the Department of Corrections to maintain complete documentation of all youthful offender assignments and transfers.

Probation Violations and the Florida Youthful Offender Act

When a youthful offender is sentenced to probation, he is expected to follow the rules set by his probation officer. He must also satisfy any requirements ordered by the court. If the youthful offender fails to follow rules or satisfy requirements, he is in violation of his probation.

Florida has two categories of probation violations -- technical and substantive.

  • Technical violations occur when the youthful offender does not abide by the complete terms of his probation, such as failing to notify his probation officer of a new address or failing to pay fines.
  • Substantive violations occur when the youthful offender is charged with a new crime while still on probation.

If the youthful offender is found guilty of a technical or substantive probation violation, he cannot be sentenced to more than six years of incarceration and supervision or for more than the maximum sentence of the offense. In both cases, he receives credit for time served while incarcerated.

Post-Release from the Youthful Offender Program

The Florida Youthful Offender Act requires the Department of Corrections to provide a comprehensive transition and post-release plan for all youthful offenders. The youthful offender is part of the team that creates this plan. The other participants are a transition assistance officer, a classification officer, an educational representative, a health services administrator, and a probation or parole officer.

The Department of Corrections has partnerships to provide the youthful offender with community resources after his release. These include other state agencies, community health agencies, private agencies, and school systems. The youthful offender may attend a residential program, non-residential program, or intensive day treatment. The Department of Corrections makes this determination based on the youthful offender's needs and the best interests of the community.

Aggressive Youthful Offender Representation in Palm Beach County, Florida

Do you or someone you know fit the qualifications of a youthful offender? Have you been charged with a crime as a youthful offender? If so, you need strong, smart legal representation. Your future is literally on the line, and participation in this program may sometimes be your best option. It's not for everyone, but it can help some.

If you have questions about Florida's Youthful Offender Act or need legal representation, contact Jacob Noble. Criminal defense attorney Jacob Noble provides his clients with aggressive representation to protect their rights, freedom, and futures. He understands how the Florida Youthful Offenders Act program works and will provide you with guidance through the court process while building the strongest defense on your behalf. If you have been charged with a crime in Palm Beach County, Florida, contact Noble Law today at (561) 847-7095.

Aggressive. Prepared. Tenacious.

These invaluable qualities are what distinguishes Jacob Noble from his peers, and what leaves many of his clients feeling satisfied with their case results. For more information about how he can help you, don't hesitate to contact Noble Law today at (561) 847-7095.