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Jacksonville Juvenile Offenders To Get Relief From Prosecution for Certain Nonviolent Crimes

The Times-Union reported today that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has committed to increase its use of juvenile civil citations in lieu of arresting juveniles for certain minor nonviolent crimes.  Civil citations are issued in appropriate cases as an alternative to arrest for juvenile misdemeanor offenders.  Instead of being arrested and then subjected to juvenile delinquency sanctions, which may include residential commitment programs, juveniles issued civil citations will be directed to a restorative justice process.

The commitment was made at a recent meeting of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment (ICARE) by Undersheriff Pat Ivey.  The Sheriff’s Office commitment includes working with ICARE to create a public announcement about the civil citation program and with the State Attorney’s Office to increase the use of citations in battery cases where the victim was not injured, such as minor “schoolyard fights.” The goal of ICARE is to bring Duval County more in line with Florida Department of Juvenile Justice statistics showing that while less than 33 percent of its eligible youth receive civil citations, state-wide that average is 43 percent.

The Sheriff’s Office has already implemented some policy changes regarding juvenile arrests.  For example, on August 18, 2015 a policy change was implemented providing officers discretion to issue civil citations where juvenile offenders talk back to, give false information to, or flee from officers.   Within the last month, lieutenants underwent training for the civil citation program.  Sergeants will train now through the first of the year on the programs as well.

Part of the Sheriff’s Office’s commitment includes reaching out to area businesses and encouraging them to support the program for crimes such as retail theft.  In my experience as a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney, many of these types of cases emanate from Walmart and Kohl’s.  Currently, most juveniles shoplifting from these and other local businesses are either arrested or issued Notices to Appear in juvenile court.  Under that procedure, even if the juvenile’s case ultimately is dismissed / dropped, the juvenile is left with a court record of the incident which can hinder, or even preclude, entry into the military or eligibility for certain jobs or professions.  Under the civil citation program, not only will the courts be relieved of the additional burden of hearing these types of cases, but the affected juvenile offenders’ future will not be unduly disrupted over a relatively minor matter.

Another benefit of the civil citation is its positive effect on re-offense rates.  According to The Times-Union, in Orlando, 90 percent of the youth who complete the civil citation program there do not re-offend.  Additional support for the proposition that a  civil citation program vastly decreases the rate of re-offense is found in other alternatives to the formal juvenile justice system for minor crimes.   For example, as noted in the article, 92 percent of Jacksonville-area teens who complete Teen Court or a neighborhood accountability board do not re-offend.

The juvenile civil citation program provides first time misdemeanor offenders an opportunity to proceed on with their lives relatively unscathed and with a clean criminal history.   According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, effectively implemented state-wide, it will also save millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent if Florida juvenile offenders were instead arrested and processed through the formal juvenile justice system.