Specialized team of case workers processes, observes Sarasota youth after arrest

After a juvenile is arrested in Sarasota County, law enforcement officers immediately transport the youth(s) to a facility housed within the Sarasota County Jail's booking (screening) unit that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a team of dedicated and highly trained county employees. This facility is called the Juvenile Assessment Center (JAC).

The mission of the JAC is to help ensure the safety of the public by appropriately assessing and placing youth in a safe environment while their criminal case makes its way through the justice system. JAC staff embrace their duty and work hard to execute this mission every day.

In 2013, Sarasota County Pretrial Services (PTS) was given the responsibility of overseeing the county's JAC. Every person under the age of 18 accused of committing a criminal offense in Sarasota County is screened by the JAC. The facility has screened youth as young as age 10.

The team consists of four PTS case workers that are full-time, designated JAC Screeners: Stephanie Abrams, Sabrina Harris, Maxime “Max” Poitevien, and Stephanie Smith, and a Compliance Coordinator, Larry Kitt, who oversees operations. PTS also has several Intake case workers who maintain their JAC certification and are available for backup JAC staff as needed.

Each JAC Screener is responsible for completing 124 hours of in-person and online pre-service training mandated by the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) within six months of their initial hire date to obtain certification. An additional 40 hours of yearly in-service training is required to maintain that certification. It should be noted that JAC training is in addition to the required PTS case worker training.

JAC Screeners ensure that youth entering the facility are physically and mentally fit to complete the screening process. Prior to entrance, every individual is subject to a medical and mental health clearance. This initial clearance helps ensure that the youth is free from major physical ailment or suicidal ideation before entering the facility. Any youth who does not pass this clearance is immediately sent to a local medical center or mental health provider to receive assessment and needed treatment before returning to the facility to complete the screening process.

A screener's next priority is vetting the youth to determine, based on DJJ policy and state statute, how to release the youth from custody. Release types include a release to a parent or responsible adult, a release to one of three levels of Supervised Release (Home Detention), or a release to the regional juvenile detention center.

During the screening process, JAC staff are also responsible for talking to youth and observing their behavior for risk indicators. For example, screeners will use their observations and motivational interviewing to identify if the youth is possibly abusing drugs, is a victim of physical or sexual abuse, or is a victim of human trafficking. If indicators are found, staff refer the youth and family to the appropriate agency for follow-up care. The average juvenile screening takes three to four hours, and DJJ mandates that the JAC Screener make every attempt within reason to release youth from the facility within six hours. Once the screening is complete, staff send all relevant documentation to court stakeholders to begin criminal proceedings.

In 2020 the JAC screened 293 juveniles and in 2019, the JAC screened 398 juveniles.

Other Responsibilities
  • Human Trafficking Assessment
  • Mental health screening
  • Victim Interviews
  • Court Liaison

To learn more about the Juvenile Assessment Center, please visit the Pretrial Services page on the court’s website.

Meet the Team