Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Civil Citations for Juveniles: Shall or May?

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Civil Citations for Juveniles: Shall or May?

Article excerpt

Byline: Tia Mitchell

Law enforcement officers, elected officials and child advocates generally agree that Florida needs to reduce the number of juvenile arrests.

Even though folks agree on this end result, there is no consensus on how to accomplish it. And I find this civil citation issue therefore creates an interesting example of how politics can get complicated even when there is widespread agreement. It is a real-time example of how political logjam can occur based on a single word.

Civil citations are a growing trend in Florida and allow youth offenders to be required to perform community service or receive counseling as an alternative to arrest. But the use of civil citations and other pre-arrest diversion programs varies from county to county and sometimes from block to block.

Jacksonville in particular is known as a place where the civil citation program isn't used as often as in other jurisdictions, meaning young people here can get arrested for the same crimes that in other places could receive a less-serious punishment.

According to Department of Juvenile Justice statistics, only 9 percent of youth eligible for civil citations received them from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office in November 2016. Twenty-nine of 32 eligible juveniles were arrested that month instead of receiving civil citations.

The political conversation about civil citations is about whether they should be required, and not optional, when first-time juvenile offenders are accused of certain misdemeanor crimes. Should the language in state law say law enforcement officers "shall" write civil citations for eligible offenses like criminal mischief, trespassing and battery or that they "may"?

Legislation pending before the House and the Senate currently says "shall." (Senate Bill 196 received a favorable vote in the Criminal Justice Committee last week.) It has the support of Jacksonville's Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment (ICARE) and many lawmakers, including Senate President Joe Negron. …

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