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 2019-2020 juvenile population in Florida is 21% Black, 42% White, and 33% Latinx, yet juveniles of color make up almost 67% 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.
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. ⅔ of the referrals were for misdemeanors like disruption of a school function, disorderly conduct, and minor school-yard fights. Legislation in 2021 required that each school district creates a student code of conduct that includes criteria for recommending to law enforcement that a student who commits a criminal offense be allowed to participate in a civil citation or similar prearrest diversion program as an alternative to expulsion or arrest.
Minimum Age of Arrest
Florida’s minimum age of arrest is 7 years old. 17 of the 21 states that specify a minimum age of arrest do not arrest children under the age of 10. Studies have shown that 66% of youth who have been arrested will become repeat offenders within 24 months and 49 percent will experience recidivism within the first year. Children that undergo an initial arrest are more likely to continue interacting with the justice system. In 2020, Florida arrested over 2200 children under age of 12, with over 50% of those arrests being eligible for a civil citation.
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 all Juvenile confessions being false compared to approximately 13% of adult confessions. Allowing juveniles to waive their Miranda Rights, without attorney consultation does not adhere to Florida’s parental rights requirements or provide a fair opportunity for juveniles 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 ruled that juveniles could not be put to death for crimes committed before their frontal lobe fully matured, without a mature frontal lobe juveniles can not 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, 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.
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 often come from one parent households, have children of their own, have a family member who has been incarcerated, be behind their peers academically, and some are homeless. Florida has about 2,000 juveniles each year that are housed in residential facilities. 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 like appropriate housing, treatment, and other supports provided by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
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. Senate Bill 274 by Senator Perry (R-Gainesville) would have allowed minors who successfully completed juvenile diversion programs to expunge nonjudicial arrest charges from their criminal records, but the bill was vetoed by Governor DeSantis. This important change could have strengthened and supported this movement to allow juveniles greater opportunities for jobs, further education, military service and housing.
- 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.
Require attorney consultation prior to juveniles being allowed to waive their Miranda Rights: Juveniles have trouble understanding their rights when arrested and are particularly vulnerable to coercion and manipulation, which leads to about 38% of all Juvenile confessions being false. Attorney consultation will ensure that juveniles understand their legal rights and the long term consequences of waiving them.
Support juveniles through the reentry process: Reform juvenile justice reentry with appropriate housing, treatment, and other services provided by the Department of Juvenile Justice for post residential care children
Increase the minimum age of arrest to 10: Incremental progress has been made in Florida by prohibiting a child from being arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent before seven years of age, unless the act committed is a forcible felony. Florida should increase the minimum age of arrest to 10 to align with the average for the majority of states, except in the case of forcible felonies.
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