4 lessons for your state from the Alabama study on arrests for common youth misbehavior

A new juvenile justice study shows that Alabama could have saved more than $52 million and arrested nearly 36,000 fewer children for minor offenses in 2012-16 by using Florida’s juvenile civil citation pre-arrest diversion approach. And Florida’s approach has proven to be an effective alternative to arrests for common youth misbehavior.

The Caruthers Institute study called “Arrests for Common Youth Misbehavior in Alabama” is based on five years of statewide juvenile arrest data, and compares it to Florida’s juvenile civil citation pre-arrest diversion approach, which is considered a national model in addressing minor offenses by youth.

Juvenile civil citations are a data-supported prearrest diversion used in Florida to address common youth misbehavior like petit theft, fights without injury, underage drinking and other related acts (things that many people did as teenagers that resulted in a trip to the principal’s office or a call to parents).

Youth are required to complete community service and restorative justice, as well as take a risk assessment to determine risk of reoffending and whether intervention resources are needed. Youth with prior arrests are not eligible. The study provided four key lessons for Alabama that likely apply to your state:

1. You don’t know what you’re not measuring.
2. Arrests for common youth misbehavior harm public safety.
3. Arresting thousands of juveniles is extremely expensive.
4. Arrests diminish and destroy children’s futures.

1. You don’t know what you’re not measuring

Alabama is like the majority of states that do not report (and likely don’t even collect and measure) statewide juvenile arrest data, according to the Institute’s research. Chances are, your state government likely cannot tell you how many juveniles were arrested statewide last year (or any recent year) by race, age, charge, or law enforcement agency – which means arrest data trends go undetected. Note, most states collect the data on a county level but don’t aggregate it on a state level (or don’t report it that way).

Here’s what Alabama learned from the Institute’s study:

  • More black youth were charged than white youth over a five-year period and in each year (even though there are approximately twice as many white K-12 students than black).
  • Children as young as 10 years of age have been charged with juvenile misdemeanors. In fact, there were nearly 1,400 misdemeanor charges (1,394) brought against children ages 12 or younger, which includes nearly 150 under the age of 10, over a five-year period.
  • Marijuana possession was the top charge against youth in 2016 (and one of the top three charges in the previous years).

This begs the question: What trends are happening in your state that you don’t know about?

2. Arrests for common youth misbehavior harm public safety

Youth arrested for common misbehavior are more likely to reoffend than those issued juvenile civil citations. The recidivism rate for Florida youth issued a juvenile civil citation dropped to as low as 4%, compared to the recidivism for post arrest diversion in the state, which can be as high as 12%. More specifically, when comparing nine of the most common youth offenses in Florida, arrests resulted in at least double the recidivism rate for seven of those offenses.

Also, juvenile civil citations take substantially less time than making an arrest, which allows law enforcement to more quickly address common youth misbehavior in order to focus more effort on serious crimes like violent felonies.
Alabama’s lesson is that it can reduce crime throughout the state in the form of fewer reoffenders by adopting juvenile civil citations. Your state could be harming public safety, and growing the school-to-prison pipeline, by arresting youth for minor acts.

3. Arresting thousands of juveniles is very expensive

The Institute’s study showed Alabama could have saved up to $52 million by issuing juvenile civil citations instead of making arrests for common youth misbehavior over the five-year period studied. Most of the more than 36,000 arrests over the five-year period involved transporting the youth to a detention center where they will be processed. This includes fingerprinting and booking – all of which is followed by many months (occasionally years) of involvement with the clerk of the court, state attorney, probation officers and others.

The lesson for Alabama, and perhaps your state, is that arresting tens of thousands of youth – when there are other attractive alternatives – is very expensive.

4. Arrests diminish and destroy children’s futures

Arrests negatively impact opportunities for education, employment, housing, and loans – all key factors in determining children’s futures and quality of life. For many of these youth, an arrest for common youth misbehavior also represented the entry point to the state’s school-to-prison pipeline.

The lesson is that far too many Alabama youth are living a diminished future due to being arrested for a minor offense.

2019-08-19T18:30:42-04:00 Sunday, August 18, 2019|

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