Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Citations for Youth Are Better, Cheaper

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Citations for Youth Are Better, Cheaper

Article excerpt

Florida's overly harsh treatment of juveniles in trouble is needlessly expensive for taxpayers and is harmful to children - especially in Duval.

Efforts toward reform have been slow compared to other parts of the country.

That is especially true in the key area of diverting first-time offenders with low-level misdemeanors from entering the "school to prison" pipeline.

Even after passage of a 2011 law that requires all counties to use civil citations for first-time offenders - instead of being arrested and jailed - at least 18 counties still don't have a program using guidelines from the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

Under Duval's program, only 31 percent of first-time offenders who were eligible for civil citations received them last year.

That compares to 84 percent of first-time offenders receiving civil citations in Miami-Dade County, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

HOW CITATIONS WORK

A civil citation brings consequences and requires accountability by youthful offenders. They must admit to wrongdoing, agree to receive services, such as counseling or drug therapy if needed, perform community service and get permission from the victim in some cases to avoid detention.

Many businesses have agreed to forego pressing for other punitive actions for first-time offenders. Walmart, a frequent target of shoplifters, has agreed to accept civil citations for youthful first-time offenders in Northeast Florida.

Repeat offenses are remarkably lower for children issued civil citations compared to those arrested for first offenses.

The re-offend rate for those completing a civil citation program is only 6 percent. That compares to a 17 percent rate for those arrested but placed on probation and 41 percent for those who spent time in residential programs.

COREY'S REFUSAL

Part of the reason for Duval's low use of civil citations is objections by State Attorney Angela Corey, who has refused to abide by a memorandum of understanding implementing a more robust program.

That document sets out who is eligible for civil citations, which offenses qualify and operating procedures for the sheriff, Duval County Teen Court, the state attorney and the Department of Juvenile Justice.

It was signed by Sheriff John Rutherford, the public defender, DJJ's chief probation officer and the teen court director.

Corey cites her own diversion programs and says she objects to youth getting civil citations when battery is involved.

Unfortunately, that means some children involved in schoolyard fights, even if it is their first misdemeanor offense, may be arrested, locked up and then have an arrest record.

An arrest record can become a major obstacle to employment, college admission, military service and the like. …

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