Rather than arresting children for common youthful misbehaviors, more law enforcement are issuing civil citations, according to Florida Department of Juvenile Justice data. Reasons for the continued uptick include numerous media headlines encouraging implementation, fairness, cost savings, and because it’s good public safety policy with its beneficial outcomes and lower recidivism. Yet another reason is collective impact, led by concerned citizens, advocates, the communities of faith and parents worried about the long-term consequences of a blight on a child’s record.
Civil citations are alternatives to arrests for youth age 8-17 and are issued at the discretion of law enforcement officers. They give youth much-needed second chances by separating out common unlawful mistakes from being treated as punishable offenses. Civil citations also free up law enforcement resources to be devoted to fighting crimes that are more serious.
However, this even-handed, compassionate and smart approach hasn’t yet reached the desired utilization numbers consistently throughout the state, and citizens have taken it upon themselves to meet with law enforcement, court personnel and public officials. When individual meetings did not move the needle fast or high enough, town hall meetings and public rallies with hundreds in attendance raised awareness. And, when that didn’t get the job done, in no fewer than 3 counties, citizens made civil citations important issues in races for sheriffs and state attorneys, in some cases resulting in new leadership.
“Civil citation began as a voluntary effort decided at the local level,” said Roy Miller, president of The Children’s Campaign, whose support dates back almost two decades. “Citizens are proving that personal involvement makes a difference.”
With leadership by law enforcement, state attorneys and chief judges in many circuits, bolstered by citizens, the overall rate of juvenile civil citations statewide has continued to rise. It now exceeds 54% in the time period reviewed by The Children’s Campaign, an increase of four percentage points over the prior year, and double the starting point a few years back, according to Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Civil Citation Dashboard data.
The numbers are more impressive in many counties. In fact, nine Florida counties have juvenile civil citation rates well above the statewide average: Dade (96%); Monroe (93%); Pinellas (92%); St. Johns (82%); Lafayette (75%); Alachua (74%); Manatee (72%); Palm Beach (70%) and Collier (70%).
Just as importantly, in the time period reviewed by The Children’s Campaign, about one-third of Florida counties showed an annual percentage point Improvement at least double the increase statewide. Some were quite a bit more.
Existing Juvenile Civil Citation Programs Showing Greatest Annual Gains
|County||Percentage Point Gain|
* Data source: Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Civil Citation Dashboard, August 22, 2017
It’s not all good news though. The juvenile civil citation rate dipped in eleven counties – Wakulla, Volusia, Union, Lake, Franklin, Escambia, Dixie, DeSoto, Brevard, Broward and Bay. Some of the declines were slight (Brevard and Broward), while other counties had fairly significant drops such as Wakulla, Union and Franklin. Citizens and advocates need to examine the reasons.
In counties where new leadership has emerged, and new collaborative agreements reached, trends for the past quarter are encouraging.
“It’s important not to take the badge away from law enforcement regarding civil citation,” said Miller. “Situations exist where not issuing one is appropriate. But citizens working together can increase awareness and demand accountability, thereby effectively reaching the shared goals of equal justice.”
Click here to learn more about other progress being made to help Florida youth avoid their futures being derailed by arrests, as well as additional needs and concerns.
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This Top Story is brought to you by Roy Miller, Karen Bonsignori and Tiffany McGlinchey