Florida’s public schools are safer than they have been since the state started collecting juvenile delinquency data in 2004 thanks to the state’s new civil citation program.
During the last six months of 2011, delinquency referrals fell 16 percent compared to the same period during 2010. A referral is a misdemeanor or felony arrest for a crime committed on school grounds. The statistics fell in 46 of the Sunshine State’s 67 counties, according to a press release from the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Schools are working with the DJJ to take advantage of effective arrest alternatives like civil litigation. With fewer students getting an arrest record for committing acts of misconduct, the system is free to process criminal threats.
The majority of arrests for school-related activities are misdemeanors, according to the release. The DJJ must process all juvenile delinquents through the courts. So, the fewer the charges, the more efficient the system.
Florida began offering civil citations as an option last spring after the state legislature passed the measure. Gov. Rick Scott trumpeted the move as a significant advance in juvenile justice policy that will make the Sunshine State an example for the nation.
The legislation allows officers to issue a civil citation if he or she suspects a youth of a first-time misdemeanor. Then the young person must admit to the offense, potentially participate in intervention services and perform community service.
Supporters of the civil citation program say it allows for an intervention for non-violent youth before they get a criminal record while still holding them accountable for their actions. By intercepting young people early, criminal justice professionals and community leaders hope to turn lives around before they get too deep into the criminal justice system, according to a release.
The program also saves the state millions of dollars that normally would have been spent in the criminal justice system. The hope is that the civil citation intervention will prevent youth offenders from ever being in the criminal justice system. Numbers for the first year have been dramatic and encouraging, according to the DJJ release.
The state’s goal of a pure prevention model ¨C emphasizing education and using enforcement as a last resort ¨C seems to be working quickly in south Florida. In Miami-Dade, the juvenile delinquency rates dropped by 60 percent during the second half of last year compared to the same period in 2010. The school system had 585 school referrals in the fall of 2010 and only 232 in the fall of 2011.
Miami-Dade is the most populous county in the state, so for it to have the biggest drop is meaningful. Families with a child who has been caught up in the juvenile justice system should call a criminal lawyer with experience in juvenile cases.