Stakeholders Work Together for Juvenile Justice Reform

Tampa, Florida – On July 20, 2017, State Attorney Andrew Warren announced at a press conference that Hillsborough County has taken a major step forward in advancing necessary reforms within the juvenile justice system.  Various criminal justice partners have agreed to establish a permanent and expanded civil citation program for juveniles, titled the Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program. 

State Attorney Warren said, “I have emphasized that to best keep Hillsborough safe, we need to find smart alternatives to arrest and imprisonment for non-violent, first-time offenders, especially juveniles, so that we can focus our resources on the crimes that pose the greatest threat to our community.  Our juvenile civil citation program is a common sense, effective way to make our streets safer, reduce recidivism, and save taxpayer dollars.”  He added that “utilizing civil citations for low level offenses allows us to hold juveniles accountable for their actions and keep them on the right path, helping them become law-abiding, contributing members of our community while helping them avoid becoming entrenched in the criminal justice system.”   

Over the past decade, cities across the country have implemented intelligent reforms aimed at decreasing violent crime, reducing recidivism, and restoring fairness to their criminal justice systems.  Hillsborough County has taken steps in that direction, but has lagged behind the evolution of criminal justice in many respects – one example being the underutilization of limited, temporary juvenile civil citation programs. 

A 2016 report by The Children’s Campaign, a Florida advocacy group, criticized Hillsborough County as an outlier across the state for its use of civil citations, finding that Hillsborough used civil citations in only 32% of eligible juvenile cases.  The report concluded that underutilization of civil citations such as in Hillsborough has led to higher costs for taxpayers, ineffective use of resources, and bad outcomes for juveniles.  

Warren agreed at the press conference that “we have tried arresting juveniles for everything – including minor, non-violent misdemeanors; it has not worked.  We need a system that is more innovative in its approach, breaking the cycle of juvenile recidivism and endeavoring to keep our kids on the right path, while keeping public safety as our number one priority.” 

Data supports the use of civil citations as a smart move for Hillsborough County.  The average cost to prosecute a juvenile is approximately $5000, and it costs more than $55,000 annually to incarcerate a juvenile.  By contrast, the average cost to enroll a juvenile in a civil citation program is less than $400.  The juvenile civil citation program not only offers a savings of taxpayer dollars but also allows law enforcement agencies and the State Attorney’s Office to invest more resources in preventing and prosecuting the violent crimes that pose the greatest threat to community safety.

The new program, which will become effective on August 1, 2017, works like this: 

o      Law enforcement may issue civil citations to first-time offending juveniles who commit non-serious, delinquent acts as an efficient and innovative alternative to arrest and custody.

o      The vast majority of misdemeanors, including petty theft, trespass, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, are eligible offenses.

o      To maximize utilization of the program, the Juvenile Arrest  Avoidance Program agreement expressly presumes that a citation shall be issued except where there is an identifiable threat to public safety, based on the discretion of the involved officer.

o      Once issued a civil citation, the juvenile and parent/guardian will meet with a case worker to assess the appropriate sanctions, which may include drug treatment, restitution, community service, specialized classes, supervision, among other possible penalties.

o      If the juvenile successfully completes the terms and conditions of the sanction, the case is closed without referral to the State Attorney’s office.

o      If the juvenile does not successfully complete the sanctions, the case is referred to the State Attorney’s office for a charging decision.

The press conference was attended by partners to the agreement establishing the civil citation program, including representatives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Tampa Police Department, Public Defender’s Office, Administrative Office of the Courts, Clerk of the Court, Agency for Community Treatment Services, Inc., Plant City Police Department, Tampa International Airport Police Department, and Temple Terrace Police Department. 

To close the press conference, State Attorney Warren emphasized that the new program “is a critical step towards building a safer, stronger Hillsborough … for today, tomorrow, and for many years to come. “

 

Rena J. Frazier, Chief of Policy and Communication

13th Judicial Circuit

Direct:  813.274.1920, Mobile:  813.557.3366

Email:  Frazier_R@SAO13th.com

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| 270 views | July, 20th, 2017
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