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Advocates Say Citations A Civil Approach To Crime

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This (LAST) week’s survey by the James Madison Institute did more than show widespread support for criminal justice reform. It lends more ammunition to children’s advocates pushing greater use of civil citations for juvenile offenders.

Children’s advocates were encouraged last legislative session when a House subcommittee tentatively agreed to require police to issue civil citations to juveniles instead of arresting them for minor crimes. If the bill passed, it would have been a big step. Civil citations are optional in Florida and not always popular with police. House Criminal Justice Chairman Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican, said mandating civil citations would level the playing field.

“The consequences of a crime or punishment that’s administered should not be different by circuit and it should not be different by county. A child or an adult arrested in Duval County should be treated the same exact way under the law as a child that’s arrested in Monroe County.”

The bill died when a deal between Republican leaders and the Black Caucus fell apart.  Now, Children’s Campaign president Roy Miller is hoping a new study will rebuild momentum.  

“We have superior data that using civil citations brings better results, public safety, use of taxpayer dollars, than making a youth arrest. This is one of the most important juvenile justice reforms that we could make.”

Civil citations are the middle ground between looking the other way and slapping on the cuffs. Juveniles get them for misdemeanor infractions like tagging a building, shoplifting a T-shirt, or trespassing in a public park. Civil citations come with consequences, like community service and letters of apology.  

Miller and others say civil citations are important in an age when even a minor arrest can haunt someone for life. Young people say they’re being barred from college, student housing and military careers.  Tampa-based consultant Dewey Caruthers says advocates are encouraged by the latest figures, but there’s still a ways to go. Civil citation use in Florida rose 5 percent last year, but it peaked at a 42 percent utilization rate.

“So that’s the good news. The bad news is that means in 58 percent of all of those instances where law enforcement confronts someone, and has the opportunity to issue a civil citation, an arrest was made.”

Civil citations aren’t being used uniformly. Miami-Dade leads the state with a 91 percent utilization rate. Leon County, with a 62 percent utilization rate, is in the top 13 counties. Orange County ranked near the bottom, with a 17 percent utilization rate.  The study doesn’t recommend mandatory use of civil citations. But ACLU Florida attorney Howard Simon warns without a mandate, juvenile offenders are being treated unfairly.

“From my point of view, the alarming thing about this report is that there are still too many communities that are jeopardizing the future of young people by saddling them with an arrest record for a non-violent minor offense. “

That’s not to mention the bottom line. The reports claims raising the statewide utilization rate for civil citations to 75 percent, police could save a combined $62 million.