ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – In her final weeks in office, prosecutor Aramis Ayala is changing the way people are brought to justice in Orange and Osceola counties.
Prosecutors for the ninth judicial district, which oversees cases in Orange and Osceola counties, unveiled three new diversion programs on Monday.
Ayala outlined the programs at a press conference, saying the initiatives are designed to create accountability and prevent injustice. The new programs target people caught driving with a driver’s license and combat human trafficking and underage alcohol consumption.
The driver’s license suspension program is effective immediately and is conducted in conjunction with the Orange County Court Clerk.
The program is divided into two tiers to help people regain their license while lowering other management fees. Level one is for those with financial resources as determined by the courts. Level two is for those who may not have the financial means to pay any outstanding fees immediately.
“The pandemic reiterated the need for such a program for people trying to stay afloat,” said Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Gong Guerrero.
The program ultimately offers those faced with a driver’s license fee the option of paying fees through payment plans or participating in a six-month program. Anyone who completes the program within six months will be rejected.
The prosecution is also working with two University of Central Florida students to dissuade minors from drinking.
“We saw a need for more education to minors about the dangers of alcohol consumption,” said Gong Guerrero.
The attorney said the diversionary effort would work with the students doing a minor drinking project as part of the university’s law studies program.
The underage alcohol diversion program aims to catch minors involved in the criminal justice system who are drinking alcohol or attempting to source alcohol from facilities.
Gong Guerrero said the program will educate minors about the laws and dangers of drinking alcohol at a young age. The assistant prosecutor says this will give some of the youngest members of the community the resources to make informed decisions and give the prosecutor a chance to communicate the consequences.
The perpetrators are now shown a video about the effects of alcohol consumption at a young age and they are informed of the legal consequences if the prosecution decides on each individual case. The program will officially be launched in Orange and Osceola counties next week.
Ayala revealed her latest program, saying it was meant to address a bigger problem that is worrying Florida.
“Human trafficking is very real,” she said during the press conference. “Florida plays an important role in dangerous and inhuman crime.”
Ayala said the prostitute diversion program was one she wanted to see through before she left office. The pilot initiative aims to help victims of human trafficking avoid prostitution fees and possibly receive help.
“There was nothing about education about illegal sex work and trafficking,” said Jenny Rossman, the chief of sex crimes at the prosecutor’s office. “A large majority of trafficked persons have been arrested. The goal is to finish this cycle. “
Rossman said in 2019 there had been nearly 120 prostitution crimes that crossed prosecutor’s office. The offenses can be applied to anyone selling commercial sex and selling human trafficking victims without their knowledge, the lawyer said.
The diversion program would be available as a pre-trial option, with anyone exposed to a prostitution crime being entitled to choose the alternative.
Rossman said the program was developed with anti-trafficking organizations and is offered quarterly, four times a year.
The courses would last four hours and be held in person once it is safe to do so. Information includes but is not limited to the psychology of exploitation and trauma and substance abuse, human trafficking, education on the Expulsion of Human Trafficking Act, reporting to law enforcement agencies, presentation of treatment programs, sexually transmitted disease education, and resources for the health of the population.
Rossman said her unit will track the success of the pilot program and launch in the coming year. If it is proven effective, it will also be introduced in Polk County.
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