The legal landscape just got a little brighter for local youth, with regional and state law enforcement officials gathering recently to announce a countywide expansion of Florida’s juvenile civil citation program.
“Too often, youth who act out are arrested and sent to DJJ for punishment, forcing them to enter the juvenile justice system needlessly,” Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters said at an April 22 press conference in Escambia County.
“To use resources effectively, efficiently and strategically we must reserve serious sanctions, such as secure detention and residential treatment for youth who pose the greatest risk to public safety and require the most intensive and expensive services.”
The civil citation process allows youth who commit first-time, non-violent offenses an opportunity to avoid the criminal justice system. The process involves remediation and offers an alternative to incurring an arrest record.
“We don’t need children to have arrest records,” Walters said after the press conference.
State Attorney Bill Eddins called the civil citation expansion a “tremendous benefit.” He said that Walters—who has pushed for civil citations throughout the state—encouraged local stakeholders from the law enforcement and education communities to work together to embrace civil citations in Escambia.
Following the press conference, Pensacola Police Chief Chip Simmons said he considered civil citations an “invaluable” tool.
“I’m a believer in giving kids a second chance and not saddling them with a criminal charge that will follow them for the rest of their life, when there’s an alternative,” Simmons said.
Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas agreed.
“One of the lessons we try to teach in education is you learn from your mistakes,” Thomas said.
In addition to affording second-chances to juveniles, officials also touted the cost effectiveness of civil citations due to the expenses associated with entering the justice system. They noted that during fiscal year 2011-2012, there were 96,515 juvenile arrests throughout the state, with 26,210 of those arrests being first time offenses; this represents a potential for $32 million in savings. During that same time period in Escambia, there were 2,242 juvenile arrests, with 562 first-time offenders, representing a potential savings of $2.6 million.
“I’m looking forward to the rehabilitation part of it, myself,” said Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, expressing a hope that civil citations might offer better long-term results for the community insofar as crime reduction.
Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May said he’s glad to see the community embrace “another tool in the toolbox.” He pointed to individuals he’s known through his work with youth sports that would have benefited from a civil citation process.
“A lot of young people I work with simply made a mistake and got a record and then couldn’t get a job because they have a record,” May said, noting that his district was home to “a high amount.”
That’s part of the cycle Walters is hoping to curb. Thus far, 49 of Florida’s 67 counties employ a civil citation process.
“Youth who break the law absolutely must be held accountable for their actions; civil citation is a great way to do that without establishing an arrest record, which can ruin their chances of a successful future,” the DJJ secretary said. “Additionally, it gives us the opportunity to get to the root of what is causing the youth’s behavior and address those underlying issues, decreasing the likelihood they will reoffend while also saving taxpayer dollars.”