Pedro Lescano, 17, admitted after his arrest for burglary last summer that he was using drugs. It changed his life, says the Miami Herald. His public defender persuaded a judge to put him into the Juvenile Drug Court program instead of trying him as an adult. A year later, Pedro is bound for college rather than prison. The once surly teen who used to hang out on the streets all night has earned a college scholarship and regained the trust of his family because he is drug-free. Juvenile Drug Court is an intensive probation program run by Johnson, probation officers, treatment specialists, school representatives, and attorneys who track each teen’s progress for a year. Participants — who are 13 to 17 years old and have no violent offenses — must appear in court every week and submit to a drug test. As they build credibility over weeks of counseling and negative drug tests, they appear in court less frequently.
These requirements make children accountable, said Johnson, who has presided over the court since it started in 2002. The court, like the county’s adult drug court, was created in response to a growing body of research that suggests that focused treatment, not jail time, helps combat substance abuse. Studies by the University of Miami’s Center for Treatment Research on Adolescent Drug Abuse show that the 2-year-old project is working. Six months after completing the program, juvenile drug court participants were found to have rearrest rates of 13 percent, compared with 74 percent for a matched group of drug offenders who did not receive intensive treatment and probation. Even program dropouts fare better than average, showing a recidivism rate of just 54 percent.