NEWS RELEASE / August 19, 2019
Juvenile justice study shows Alabama could reap enormous benefits and
shrink its school-to-prison pipeline by adopting new approach to
common youth misbehavior
Study also reveals more black youth charged than white youth,
and children as young as 10 years of age have been charged with juvenile misdemeanors.
ST PETERSBURG, FL — A study released by a nonpartisan think tank specializing in juvenile justice shows Alabama utilizing an alternative to arrests for common youth misbehavior would have enormous benefits for public safety, taxpayers and the futures of youth. Juvenile civil citations, a data-supported prearrest diversion, are an alternative to arrests for common youth misbehavior utilized successfully in Florida, which is a national model for the approach. Study at www.caruthers.institute
The study — called “Arrests for common youth misbehavior in Alabama” – conducted by The Caruthers Institute reveals that Alabama, which does not have a statewide prearrest diversion program, could have saved more than $52 million and arrested nearly 36,000 fewer children over the five-year period of 2012-2016 by using Florida’s juvenile civil citation effort as a model. Additionally, the tens of thousands of children issued juvenile civil citations would have been able to move forward in their lives without an arrest record, which negatively impacts education, employment, housing, loans and other key quality of life factors. Alabama does not have a statewide prearrest diversion program.
“Data is the key to developing sound criminal justice reform and The Caruthers Institute study shows Alabama has a lot of work to do in the area of juvenile justice,” said Alabama Senator Cam Ward, noting “the report’s data lays out a road map to how to move forward.”
The statewide study also reveals during the five-year period (2012-2016):
- More Black youth are charged with juvenile misdemeanors than white youth.
- Young children (as young as 10) have been charged with juvenile misdemeanors.
- Youth charged with misdemeanors, many of whom have no prior history, make up the majority of the juvenile justice population in Alabama.
- Two-thirds of youth in the custody of Department of Youth Services committed non-felonies.
- Court imposed financial obligations keep youth in the system until they age out or longer.
- Marijuana possession is one of the top charges against youth.
“Alabama is like the majority of states that continue to address common youth behavior – petit theft, fights without injury, underage drinking and other related acts – by making arrests, which is a major entry point to the state’s school-to-prison pipeline, said Dewey Caruthers, report author and president of The Caruthers Institute. “Zero tolerance policies have criminalized behavior that in previous days resulted in a call to parents or a trip to the principal’s office.”
The study represents the first public reporting of statewide juvenile charges data, which is collected regularly on county and city levels. The Institute gathered the statewide data from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Information Bureau and used it to develop “The Alabama Juvenile Charges and Civil Citation Dashboard,” an online tool with five years of juvenile charges data that can be searched by race, age, gender, law enforcement agency and charge – available at www.caruthers.institute. “We are now able to identify statewide patterns and see trends that we have previously been blind.”
The study recommends the dashboard be updated and maintained to inform data-driven decision-making for policy-makers, elected officials, law enforcement, Department of Youth Services and others involved in Alabama juvenile justice. “The public dashboard is a very powerful tool that only one other state in the nation has,” Caruthers said.
The study also recommends Alabama immediately begin a juvenile civil citation pilot, using Florida as a model, to inform a statewide effort to shortly follow. “The data shows that juvenile civil citations would increase public safety, improve youth opportunities and save large amounts of taxpayer dollars for Alabama,” Caruthers said.
Juvenile civil citations increase public safety because youth issued civil citations are less likely to reoffend. The recidivism rate for Florida youth issued a juvenile civil citation has dropped to as low as 4%, compared to the recidivism for post arrest diversion that can be as high as 12%. Additionally, the time-savings of issuing juvenile civil citations allows officers to more quickly get back to focusing on serious crimes like violent felonies. “No one wants law enforcement spending large amounts of time on common youth misbehavior when there are serious felonies that need dire attention,” Caruthers said.
Juvenile civil citations also improve youth opportunities because youth issued civil citations will not experience the detriments, barriers and harms of an arrest that include education, employment, housing and loans. And juvenile civil citations save taxpayer money because it is significantly more expensive to arrest a youth than to issue her a civil citation.
The study explains that in Florida juvenile civil citations are done at the discretion of law enforcement officers, who can choose to issue the citation or make an arrest. To be eligible, youth must not have any prior arrests.
The study was funded by The Clark Family Fund (a Tampa, Florida-based foundation that regularly funds the Institute’s juvenile justice work) as well as Alabama community groups. The Institute by policy does not allow funders to have any editorial control of its studies.
The Caruthers Institute – based in St. Petersburg, Florida — is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that conducts research, craft solutions and lead advocacy on emerging issues, including juvenile justice. Founder Dewey Caruthers is one of Florida’s top experts on juvenile civil citations, and Florida leads the nation in the approach that is more effective and efficient than arrests. The Institute has conducted four studies and more than 250 county reports on Florida juvenile civil citations, with the fifth annual study and county reports to be released in the fall.