By Tessa Duvall
A new report by a coalition of justice-oriented non-profits and think tanks shows that most Florida counties — including those in Northeast Florida — are not using as often as they can an alternative to arresting juveniles for minor crimes.
Fifty of Florida’s 67 counties are issuing civil citations to eligible juveniles accused of misdemeanors less than 60 percent of the time, earning an ‘F’ in the latest “Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Juvenile Civil Citation Efforts,” an annual study by the Florida-based Caruthers Institute with support from the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center and James Madison Institute.
However, for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, there is a caveat: The data in the study was collected before the leaders of 22 agencies in the three-county judicial circuit signed on to revamp the civil citation process in May. The new policy allows for more offenders to receive the citation, and removes the State Attorney’s Office from the process, making it more efficient.
All three counties received an ‘F’ in the report, which used data from 2016, when Angela Corey was still the circuit’s top prosecutor and the civil citation process was more restricted. Duval used civil citations only 28 percent of the time; Clay, only 20 percent; and Nassau; 46 percent of the time.
Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU in Florida, pointed to the new memoranda of understanding and new elected state attorneys in both Duval and Hillsborough and said he expects the numbers to improve.
“I am really hopeful that next year will show an even greater improvement,” Simon said.
Duval County was also singled out for having a significant racial disparity in its use of civil citations. According to the findings, which use Department of Juvenile Justice data, Duval County departments are “arresting substantially more civil citation-eligible black youth than white youth, causing a notable racial disparity.”
Black kids were arrested at a rate that was 16 percentage points higher than white youth who committed similar offenses. Eighty percent of eligible black kids were arrested, while only 64 percent of comparable white kids were arrested.
For the second-consecutive year, the report shows that together, Duval, Hillsborough and Orange counties were responsible for 24 percent of all juvenile arrests — 2,088 in total — statewide. If those cases had instead received civil citations, an estimated $3.1 million to $9.6 million could have been saved, according to the report.
Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute, said civil citations not only offer short-term savings, but they also offer kids a better shot at employability, receiving higher education and otherwise being a taxpaying, productive citizen by keeping their arrest records clean.
The report found that, on average, only 4 percent of kids who receive civil citations will reoffend.
Tessa Duvall: (904) 359-4697