Disproportionate Minority Contact and Punishment
Youth of color are more likely to be arrested, contained and confined relative to White youth despite largely comparable types and rates of offending behavior. Disproportionate Minority Contact exists for several reasons, including: decision makers in the system intentionally or unintentionally treating youth of color more harshly, the location of the interaction with law enforcement, and the different opportunity to access preventative services and treatment for juveniles of color.
The juvenile population in Florida is 21% Black, 43.8% White, and 31.8% Latinx, yet juveniles of color make up almost 66% of arrests. Juveniles of color in Florida’s justice system are more likely to be transferred to adult court (79% of the population is juveniles of color), and placed in detention (72.9% of the population is juveniles of color) than their White peers. Black juveniles are more likely to be arrested and committed. At the same time, Black and Latinx juveniles are less likely to enter a diversion program than their White counterparts.
Civil Citations: Florida’s Greatest Opportunity for Continued Juvenile Justice Reform
Increasing the utilization rates of civil citation is one of Florida’s most important opportunities for furthering juvenile justice system reform. Arrests hurt kids’ chances for jobs both in the short- and long-term, and limit access to educational opportunities and scholarships, housing and more. In addition, youth arrested for civil citation-eligible offenses have higher rates of reoffending. Punishing children for youthful misbehavior stresses law and order resources while leading to poor outcomes.
Data collection on civil citation usage is crucial in order to identify which counties are effectively utilizing pre-arrest diversion. This includes keeping and reporting data on juveniles who are being offered civil citations for their second and third eligible misdemeanors.
Maintain and Strengthen Expungement and Confidentiality of Records for Juveniles
The Children’s Campaign, with a host of partners including local and state elected officials, juvenile justice stakeholders, state attorneys, public defenders and law enforcement organizations, made great strides in keeping youthful misdeeds away from the prying public eye and from impacting a child’s future. Florida’s laws now follow the juvenile justice system’s shift away from punitive measures by strengthening the confidentiality of juvenile records and lowering the age that many juvenile records can be expunged. Newly introduced legislation needs to strengthen and support this movement to allow juveniles greater opportunities for jobs, further education, military service and housing.
Direct File: Placing Children in Adult Court for Nonviolent Crimes
Florida currently leads the nation in the number of youth transferred to adult courts (a process known as “direct file”). Most children tried as adults in Florida are charged with nonviolent felony offenses, primarily property and drug crimes or misdemeanors. More than 70% of children convicted in adult courts are sentenced to probation, calling into question whether a more serious adult court transfer was necessary in the first place.
Research shows that transferring youth to adult courts has not been proven to deter crime. In fact, children in adult facilities do not receive the education, rehabilitative services and treatment they need to ensure they do not reoffend as adults. Youth sent to the adult criminal justice system were 34 -77% more likely to be re-arrested for felonies than youth who had been retained in the juvenile justice system.
- Clarify who is eligible to expunge their juvenile records, and eliminate the unintended consequence of youthful misdeeds following children into adulthood: Past legislative changes improved the expungement of juvenile records but confusion continues to exist in the process and many offenses remain unchanged. This results in fewer children being able to access early record expungement – making it harder to enter college, find housing, and get a job.
- Change the use of direct file by prosecutors: Florida still tries more children in adult court than any other state. The practice of “Direct File,” which gives prosecutors the sole discretion to make the decision, must be changed to raise the age of the child, the offenses involved, and require the consent of an impartial judge.
- Increase civil citation utilization while maintaining officer discretion: Although all counties are required to develop civil citation or similar pre-arrest diversion programs, statute does not specify how these programs must be designed or administered. Data on civil citation usage must identify counties and judicial circuits that are effectively using pre-arrest diversion to its full, intended use.
- Reduce the use of technical violations of probation. Ensure that technical violation of probation and/or lack of ability to pay court fees does not result in committing justice-involved youth to residential facilities.
- Limit the use of secure confinement (residential) to necessary cases: Increase availability and funding for reliable programs and services within local communities that can manage children with certain developmental disabilities, substance abuse issues, or mental illnesses. The middle of DJJ’s service spectrum has suffered from cuts. This exacerbates issues with secure confinement and reduces successful outcomes.
The Children’s Campaign Priority Bill Highlights
What The Children’s Campaign is Saying…
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