Protecting Public Safety While Addressing Issues
Bringing Kids Into The System
Florida Youth of Color are Facing Disproportionate Minority Contact and Punishment
Youth of color are more likely to be arrested, charged and incarcerated compared to White youth despite similarities in the 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 differences in opportunity to access preventative services and treatment for juveniles of color.
In 2020, the youth population in Florida was 21% Black, 33% Latinx, and 42% White, yet juveniles of color make up almost 67% of arrests. Juveniles of color in Florida’s justice system account for 79% of youth transferred to adult court and 72.9% of youth placed in detention. 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
Expanding the utilization of civil citations is one of Florida’s most important opportunities for furthering juvenile justice system reform. Arrests hurt children’s 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 puts stress on 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.
In the 2010-2011 school year, law enforcement in schools led to 16,377 referrals of students to the juvenile justice system – an average of 45 students per day. Two-thirds of the referrals were for misdemeanors like disruption of a school function, disorderly conduct, and minor school-yard fights. Legislation in 2021 required each school district to create a student code of conduct that includes criteria for recommending to law enforcement which offenses are eligible for a civil citation or similar pre-arrest diversion program as an alternative to expulsion or arrest. While these guidelines have led to some increases for civil citations in schools, standardized use must be established to prevent discrimination and to ensure civil citations are replacing, not merely adding on to arrests in schools.
The Caruthers Institute estimates that by properly utilizing civil citations 90% of the time, Florida could save $24 – $76 million a year.
Minimum Age of Arrest Needs to be Raised
Florida’s minimum age of arrest is 7 years old, much lower than 17 states that have a minimum age of arrest of 10.
Children that are arrested are more likely to have interactions with the justice system in the future. Studies have shown that 66% of youth who have been arrested will become repeat offenders within 24 months and 49% will experience recidivism within the first year.
In 2020, Florida arrested over 2,200 children under age of 12, with over 50% of those arrests being eligible for a civil citation. If civil citations were used appropriately, over 1,000 children could have been spared the traumatization of arrest and have been directed to more productive methods of rehabilitation.
Juveniles Cannot Fully Understand Miranda Rights
Juveniles have trouble understanding their rights when arrested and are particularly vulnerable to coercion and manipulation, which leads to about 38% of juvenile confessions being false compared to approximately 13% of adult confessions. Allowing juveniles to waive their Miranda Rights without attorney consultation violates Florida’s parental rights requirements and deprives youth of the opportunity to understand the importance of what they say to law enforcement. Extensive research has shown that the relevant parts of the brain that govern “impulsivity, judgment, planning for the future, foresight of consequences, and other characteristics that make people morally culpable” do not reach maturity until the early or mid-twenties. The Supreme Court even ruled that juveniles could not be put to death for crimes committed before their frontal lobe fully matured. Without a mature frontal lobe, juveniles cannot waive their rights with a full understanding of the possible negative outcomes.
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, like 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 does not deter crime. In fact, children in adult facilities do not receive the education, rehabilitative services, and treatment they would receive in juvenile facilities that will ensure they do not reoffend as adults. Youth sent to the adult criminal justice system were up to 77% more likely to be re-arrested for felonies than youth who had been retained in the juvenile justice system.
End the Practice of Placing Youth in Solitary Confinement
Solitary confinement can cause extreme psychological, physical and developmental harm. For children who are still developing and vulnerable to irreparable harm, the risks are magnified – particularly for kids with disabilities or histories of trauma and abuse. Despite the risks, solitary confinement is frequently used as a method of punishment as well as isolation for medical reasons, safety concerns, separation from the adult population, and more. Solitary confinement is extremely harmful to juveniles and must be limited to only necessary cases. If it becomes critically necessary to place a child in solitary confinement, check-ins at short intervals, face-to-face evaluation by a medical and/or mental health professional, documentation of each incident to be posted on DJJs website, and specified maximum length of time must be required.
Provide Reentry Services for Juveniles Transitioning from Residential Facilities
Juveniles in residential facilities are more likely to have children of their own, have a family member who has been incarcerated, be behind their peers academically, and experience homelessness. Florida places about 2,000 juveniles in residential facilities annually. Many residential facilities provide mental health and education support services that disappear when juveniles are released. Reentry and aftercare programs provided by the Department of Juvenile Justice aim to transition and reintegrate juveniles who have been in residential facilities back into society. They are vital in helping juveniles adjust to living outside of structured residential programs and decrease recidivism rates. Juvenile justice reentry needs services to address appropriate housing, treatment, and other supports needed by youth.
Maintain and Strengthen Expungement and Confidentiality of Records for Juveniles
American 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. Last session, policy makers passed a law that allows nonjudicial arrest record expunction for minors who successfully complete a diversion program for specified felony offenses. This important change allows juveniles greater opportunities for jobs, further education, military service and housing.
Keep youth from entering or reentering the juvenile justice system by creating a pathway alternative for girls involved in domestic disputes to avoid a harmful arrest or charge for domestic violence; increase utilization rates for use of civil citations and mandate use by school resource officers; keep youth out of detention for technical violations of parole; and raise the age of arrest from the current age of 7.
- Remove or reform arbitrary practices and policies keeping youth in the juvenile justice system for non-criminal behavior, for example – fines and fees.
- Oppose locking up dependent child victims of abuse, neglect, trafficking and other traumas, and use of hardware secure environments without due process.
- End the practice of placing youth in solitary confinement. Develop strict guard rails for placing children in a cooling off/time out if the safety of the child or others is in immediate jeopardy.
- Prohibit a child under age 16 from waiving their Miranda rights without attorney or parental consultation.
- Stop the practice of returning justice-involved children to the child welfare system by reforming community reentry with appropriate housing, treatment, and other services provided through funding from the Department of Juvenile Justice for post detention and hardware secure residential placements.
- Prioritize access to mental health services to keep children out of the child welfare system, reduce substance abuse, protect them from in-school danger, and prevent entry into the juvenile justice system.
- Expand access to truama-responsive, research proven services to children who are impacted by Adverse Childhood Expriences (ACEs) in foster care, juvenile justice, and human trafficking.
- The practice of “Direct File,” which gives prosecutors the sole discretion to try children in adult court, must be changed to consider the age of the child, the offenses involved, and require the consent of an impartial judge.
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