In the 1990s, states began to address low-risk youth conduct with zero tolerance policies that criminalized acts like fights without injuries, vandalism, petit theft, underage drinking, marijuana possession, and other common youth misbehaviors. These petty acts-in previous days handled by principals or parents-are now regularly dealt with by police using arrests. As an example, if a principal was to search a student to find marijuana and one of his bubblers, then it used to be the case that the principal would deal with the offense in school, and then contact the parents to allow them to come to a decision as to what they’ll do with their child. In these times, the principal is more likely to contact the police and the parents at the same time.
Arrests for common youth misbehavior are often the entry point to school-to-prison pipelines where youth committing one minor act become part of a system that makes them more likely to reoffend. For many children, the process and consequences of a single arrest builds momentum for many future criminal acts that escalate in seriousness.
Florida an example of how states can shrink school-to-prison pipelines
Florida has the nation’s most effective way to approach arrests for common youth misbehavior – juvenile civil citations. This is a pre-arrest diversion that keeps kids out of the system, and turns down the nozzle on the flow of children into school-to-prison pipelines.
3 enormous benefits states can reap from using Florida’s approach to common youth misbehavior
The Caruthers Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that conducted research on this topic for five years, has found that Florida’s statewide juvenile civil citations offer three key benefits:
1. Increase public safety
2. Improve youth opportunities
3. Save lots of taxpayer money
1. Juvenile civil citations increase public safety
States can increase public safety because youth who are issued civil citations as opposed to making an arrest are less likely to reoffend. The recidivism rate for Florida youth issued a juvenile civil citation dropped to as low as 4%, compared to recidivism for post-arrest diversion, which can be as high as 12%. More specifically, when comparing nine of the most common youth offenses, arrests resulted in at least double the recidivism rate for seven of those offenses.
Also adding to increased public safety, juvenile civil citations take substantially less time than making an arrest, allowing law enforcement to more quickly address common youth misbehavior to focus more effort on serious crimes.
2. Juvenile civil citations improve opportunities for youth
Florida’s juvenile civil citations occur prearrest, which means youth will not experience the detriments, barriers and harms of an arrest that include negative impacts on education, employment, housing, loans, and other key quality-of-life determinants.
In seven years (FY 2011-2012 to FY 2017-2018), Florida issued more than 62,000 juvenile civil citations (in lieu of arrest) – allowing these tens of thousands of youth to move forward in their lives without the negative, harmful consequences of a juvenile arrest record.
3. Juvenile civil citations save lots of taxpayer money
It is significantly more expensive to arrest a youth than to issue her or him a civil citation. An arrest involves transporting the youth to a detention center, followed by many months (occasionally years) of involvement with the clerk of the court, state attorney, and probation. Once the youth is issued a civil citation, (s)he is sent to the civil citation program, eliminating the need for any further involvement by law enforcement, prosecution, probation or the clerk’s office.
Florida’s cost savings estimate for the seven-year period is $86 million to $285 million (the range considers post-arrest diversion, not presuming all who are arrested will be prosecuted through trial.) These savings are experienced on state, county and municipal levels. The cost savings is based on a savings of $1,400 to $4,600 per citation issued in lieu of arrest.
How does a juvenile civil citation work?
Upon confronting youth committing an eligible offense-which includes most misdemeanors and no felonies-a Florida law enforcement officer has the discretion to make an arrest or issue a civil citation.
A Florida youth is eligible for a civil citation if he or she has no prior arrest record, although previous civil citations are allowed. If law enforcement issues a civil citation, after a risk assessment, youth are then eligible for intervention services provided through the juvenile civil citation program – all of which is offered at no cost or fees to youth in the vast majority of counties. The program also issues sanctions and consequences like community service and restorative justice.
County civil citation programs partner with law enforcement to provide the alternative to arrest. While a state statute mandates that each circuit establish a juvenile civil citation program, utilization of the program is left to the discretion of county stakeholders like the state attorney, public defender, law enforcement, school superintendent, and chief juvenile judge.