More police officers are choosing to issue civil citations to juveniles instead of arresting them, and increasing the practice by 25 percent could save taxpayers as much as $62 million. That’s the conclusion of an exhaustive study released Wednesday by child advocates.
More than 8,000 minors were issued civil citations instead of being arrested for minor offenses between 2013 and 2014. That’s according to a study by Dewey & Associates. Principal Dewey Caruthers says citations avoid saddling minors with a record that haunts them for the rest of their lives.
“For example, youth can face obstacles when leasing a college apartment after having a record of petty theft, say stealing a T-shirt, or obtaining a part-time job after having an assault and battery misdemeanor, like getting in a fight without injuring, or going to the military with a misdemeanor drug charge, like having a marijuana joint.”
Caruthers says the alternative also brings swifter justice. A citation diversion program takes just 120 days to complete. A trip through the legal system can last four months.
But Caruthers says citations are no picnic.
“You’re going to have community service, there may be letters of apology. The letters of apology to law enforcement outlining what would have happened if you were arrested are important because we want you as a youth who acted out to understand what could have happened to you.”
Another study shows taxpayers shell out $5,000 when a child is arrested for a misdemeanor, but just $386 for a citation.
Lawmakers were impressed with the success of the programs this year and agreed to let repeat offenders qualify for up to three citations.
The study shows high utilization rates in areas where the most youths are eligible. Miami-Dade issued civil citations 99 percent of the time. Pensacola was the lowest in that category, with 78 percent.
The study recommends a $2 million public investment in citation programs for things like training and statewide coordination. Not all law enforcement are sold on the idea yet, says Roy Miller, president of the Children’s campaign.
“And I think that is the beauty of this report. It shows that, it shows them, that their counterparts are involved.”
Backers of the study include the James Madison Institute, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University.