Study shows Florida continues to arrest thousands of children for first-time common youth misbehavior

Fifth annual study on Florida pre-arrest diversions shows 10 law enforcement agencies are responsible for one-third of arrests statewide.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Caruthers Institute’s fifth annual comprehensive study of alternatives to juvenile arrests for common youth misbehavior, Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Prearrest Diversion Efforts 2019, shows that use of pre-arrest diversions called “juvenile civil citations” has stalled while thousands of children are instead being arrested for first-time common youth misbehavior. Embargo study at

Florida arrested 38% of children caught committing first-time common youth misbehaviors in 2018-19, down only 1 percentage point from the previous year — a plateau from recent past annual decreases in arrests that ranged from 5% to 8% since 2011-12.

This means nearly 6,200 children in Florida were arrested for first-time minor offenses in 2018-19. And this trend continues despite evidence that arrests for common youth misbehavior, when compared to prearrest diversion juvenile civil citations, lead to more youth reoffending, negatively impacts future education and career opportunities, and costs taxpayers more money.

“This plateau, the first since statewide data has been publicly reported in 2011-12, is cause for concern that some law enforcement agencies are ignoring the harms of arrests for common youth misbehavior on youth and taxpayers,” said Dewey Caruthers, author of the study and president of The Caruthers Institute, a St. Petersburg-based nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank that conducts the annual research.

The study also revealed there were 10 law enforcement agencies responsible for one-third of all first-time arrests for common youth misbehavior statewide in 2018-19. In ranked order from the highest number of arrests: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Collier County Sheriff’s Office, and Tampa Police Department. The 10 agencies accounted for nearly 1,900 of the 6,200 arrests statewide.

“Putting children into the criminal justice system should be avoided,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the SPLC Action Fund. “Research has repeatedly shown that children who receive civil citations and go into diversionary programs are much less likely to reoffend than children put into the criminal justice system. A child’s brain is still developing and we must prioritize civil citations when it comes to dealing with juveniles to achieve the best outcomes for them and our communities.”

Furthermore, there were more than 600 children ages 12 and younger arrested for first-time common youth misbehavior — misdemeanors that in previous years most likely were not treated as law-breaking. Shockingly, nearly half of the arrests were of children ages 11 and younger.

“This raises the question why some law enforcement agencies are unable to address misbehavior by young children without making an arrest,” Caruthers said, noting that the arrests were for minor offenses, not felonies or serious acts. Sheriff’s Offices with notable numbers of arrests of young children included those in Escambia, Polk, Hillsborough, St. Lucie, and Marion counties.

Pinellas County was the state’s top-performing county in using pre-arrest diversions, with an exceptionally low rate for arrests of children committing first-time common youth misbehavior of only 3%, which included the school district’s 0% arrest rate. “Pinellas County is a model for any county or district in the state that wants to use pre-arrest diversion to increase public safety, improve youth outcomes and save taxpayers money,” Caruthers said.

Miami-Dade County, with an arrest rate of 9%, was the only other county with an an arrest rate of less than 10%. Six counties — Pasco, Washington, Monroe, Clay, Duval and Putnam — had arrest rates of less than 20%.

A key finding of the study, which looked at five years of juvenile data, is that Orange and Hillsborough counties continue years-long struggles with high arrest rates for common youth misbehavior, which were 45% and 44% respectively in 2018-19. The high arrest rates were fueled by the sheriff’s office in each county: Orange County Sheriff’s Office ranked second in the state among law enforcement agencies for arrests, while Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office ranked first in the state, and Tampa Police Department 10th.

“It’s seems unbelievable that Orange and Hillsborough counties continue to underperform without intervention from the state attorneys, both of whom were elected in part for their promises to reform juvenile justice, including increasing pre-arrest diversion for first-time minor offenses,” Caruthers said.

The fifth annual study is supported by national and state children’s and juvenile justice reform organizations including the ACLU Florida, Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida PTA, Florida League of Women Voters, Florida Juvenile Justice Association, James Madison Institute and Joseph W. & Terrell S. Clark.

2019-12-26T21:47:07-05:00 Thursday, December 26, 2019|

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