Advocates supporting issuing civil citations to youth instead of arrests hailed a report issued Monday showing there were 3,000 fewer arrests for “common youth” misbehavior in 2016.
And while approximately one-quarter of those arrests came from just three counties — Orange, Hillsborough and Duval — all three have seen a leadership change that could diminish numbers next year.
The report was issued by The Caruthers Institute, a St. Petersburg-based nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.
Topping the list of the rate of youth arrests was Orange County with 43 percent, followed by Hillsborough at 37 percent and Duval at 23 percent.
Three counties with the fewest arrests were Miami-Dade, Monroe and Pinellas. The report says that Miami-Dade and Pinellas achieved 94 percent utilization rate of civil citations last year, and Pinellas had a 97 percent utilization in the school board.
Juvenile civil citations are an alternative to an arrest for “common use misbehavior,” which are misdemeanor offenses. Underage drinking, fighting without injury, petty theft and disrupting school functions are some of those activities. When juveniles get a citation, they are usually diverted to give community service instead of being locked up.
The report, “Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Juvenile Civil Citation Efforts 2017,” is the third annual study produced by the Caruthers Institute, led by Dewey Caruthers, who authored the report. He said previous studies showed that juvenile civil citations have three key benefits for communities. They increase public safety, because the youths who go to programs have lower recidivism rates; They improve youth outcomes, as those given a citation don’t have a criminal arrest record which can hurt their employment and housing opportunities; and they save taxpayer money, because citations are less expensive and less time consuming than arrests.
“The data shows that the state is moving in the right direction,” said Caruthers.
“Arresting youth for minor misbehavior, is the least effective approach to dealing with a juvenile and is counterproductive in terms of outcome and cause,” said Howard Simon, executive director of ACLU of Florida. Simon said he’s optimistic that the numbers of juvenile civil citations should increase in Hillsborough and Duval counties next year, because both state attorneys in those counties — Andrew Warren and Melissa Nelson, respectively — have signed memorandums of understanding to increase the use of citations.
The report says that the savings are anywhere from $1,400 to $4,600 for a citation issued as opposed to an arrest.
Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy of James Madison Institute, says that extrapolating that figure over the past three and a half years shows the state was able to save anywhere from $46 to $143 million by issuing citations instead of arrests.
Sponsoring the report were the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida State University’s Project on Accountable Justice, James Madison Institute, Florida PTA., Florida League of Women Voters and Human Impact Partners.
Last spring, the Florida Legislature passed a bill requiring law enforcement officers to issue civil citations to qualifying nonviolent juvenile offenders. The Florida Sheriffs Association opposed the legislation, raising concerns that the measure circumvented officers’ discretion in making real-time decisions in the field.