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Lawmakers considering reforms to reduce amount of kids arrested in schools

By Sascha Cordner

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-988834.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A Florida TaxWatch report shows close to 11-thousand children are arrested on school grounds each year, and those kids have a better chance of becoming adult offenders. Sascha Cordner reports, a Senate panel heard recommendations Tuesday about reducing those numbers by allowing a lesser punishment.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee members listened to ideas from different groups, including public policy research institute, Florida TaxWatch. One of the ideas that sparked debate was a suggestion to reduce the type of punishment for children caught fighting in schools to a civil citation, instead of a straight arrest:

"The civil citation program has changed a little bit, but the general model is you're given this requirement to appear your parents within a week or two, you show up, there's an intervention model, you have to make restitution to whomever you hurt, you have to write a letter apologizing for what you did, you have a personal development plan for the next few months, it's kind of like probation, but for kids."

Florida TaxWatch Vice President of Research Robert Weissert told lawmakers allowing the option of a lesser charge for someone who for example, got in a fight on a playground, would be a better idea, than calling on law enforcement. He also said it could potentially save the state an average of 35 million dollars. But, some lawmakers, like Republican Senator Charlie Dean of Inverness says it's not a money issue because authorities are most likely called into the school for a reason. During the meeting, he argued that Weissert did not have more broken down figures, like how many children were given chances, like the civil citation program, and still got arrested.

But, Democratic Senator Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale defended Weissert's figures during the meeting with an example. He says in Broward County, a child can get arrested on one campus for fighting, while another child who fought over the same issue at a different school had received the attention of a teacher.

"I see it every day. I mean school yard fights have become charges now. School yards fights have become charges now. I remember all the fights that I got into middle school. Luckily I had Dean Pearson who was there to handle me and didn't send me home. But, now I would have been arrested ten times in middle school."

Even with the statistics given at the meeting, other members complained that they were not given enough time to sort through the facts and figures to make a better decision at drafting legislation. But, Republican Senator Greg Evers, the chair of the committee, says in two weeks, the five-member panel will meet again to discuss this issue.