1. Florida Politics

Report: Youthful offenders likely to get arrested in Hillsborough, cited in Pinellas

Teens attend a class at the Hillsborough County Juvenile Detention Center East. Hillsborough used civil citations over arrests in only 32 percent of eligible cases, a new report says.
Published Sep. 15, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Hillsborough County lags far behind Pinellas in the use of juvenile civil citations — an alternative that experts praise as a more effective and beneficial option to arrest for misdemeanor crimes, according to a new independent study released Wednesday.

Hillsborough used civil citations over arrests in only 32 percent of eligible cases for 2014-15. By comparison, Pinellas gave citations 82 percent of the time, the second highest rate in Florida.

Elsewhere in Tampa Bay, 53 percent of eligible youths in Pasco and Hernando counties were issued citations.

The nonpartisan "Stepping Up 2016" report — the second-annual of its kind by the Children's Campaign and several other state and national advocacy groups — builds upon previous findings that juvenile civil citations are preferable because they improve youth outcomes, increase public safety and save potentially millions in taxpayer money.

With a civil citation, child offenders are typically assigned to community service and intervention programs, rather than being arrested and getting a criminal record.

"We are unable to find any data that shows arresting youth for common youth misbehavior instead of issuing civil citations is a good idea," Dewey Caruthers, the study's author, said in a statement.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the study's numbers reflect the success of the county's juvenile diversion program, which steers minors who committed low-level crimes, like retail theft and criminal mischief, toward completing community service hours to avoid an arrest record.

Law enforcement officers across Pinellas are trained to refer juveniles to the program if they are eligible, but the Sheriff's Office also employs one staffer who visits the juvenile assessment center every day to determine if any minors there would qualify.

"There's overall a consistent stakeholder and a criminal justice system in Pinellas County that supports it and you don't always have that in every place," Gualtieri said.

It's the second time this week that Hillsborough was flagged for how juveniles navigate the criminal justice system. A study by Faith in Florida, an interdenominational activist group, found Hillsborough led the state in the number of young people incarcerated in adult prisons.

The Children's Campaign study shows how inconsistently juvenile justice is applied throughout Florida.

Hillsborough, Duval and Orange counties made up 24 percent of all arrests — totaling 2,860 juveniles in Florida — for common youth misbehavior in 2014-15. Those three counties make up 18 percent of the state's population.

By comparison, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — which represent 30 percent of the state's population — altogether represented only 9 percent of citation-eligible juvenile arrests in the same time, the study said. Miami-Dade led the state in sending child offenders to diversion programs, with 91 percent getting citations rather than getting arrested for misdemeanor crimes.

"(Hillsborough, Duval and Orange) counties represent the single biggest opportunity for the state to dramatically increase utilization rates," the study said.

Mark Cox, a Hillsborough State Attorney's Office spokesman, said the civil citations are issued at the street level, by officers, and that prosecutors rely on their discretion to do so. He did say that the state attorney's office has advised officers in establishing "parameters" for issuing citations.

Child advocacy groups in recent years have pushed for expanding the use of juvenile civil citations in Florida; a measure proposed in the Florida Legislature this year to force the use of civil citations for more first-time offenders died in a House committee.

Caruthers' study found progress between 2013-14 and 2014-15 to be "sluggish" and the number of counties and school districts using juvenile civil citations actually dropped slightly. Statewide, the use of juvenile civil citations was up 5 percent on the year, to a 43 percent usage rate from 38 percent, the report found.

Statewide in 2014-15, 11,872 children were arrested for "common youth misbehavior," compared to 8,961 who were issued civil citations.

The study recommends nearly doubling the use of juvenile civil citations — to 75 percent statewide — by January 2017. The study estimates that doing so would save law enforcement agencies between $19.8 million and $62.4 million.

The statewide report found that counties, cities, school districts and even law enforcement agencies don't have a uniform standard as to which crimes are eligible for civil citations.

"Far too often, whether youth are arrested or issued a civil citation depends on the county or city where a youth is located when committing the offense, as well as the law enforcement agency that confronts her/him," the study says.

Times staff writers Laura Morel and Anastasia Dawson contributed to this story. Times/Herald reporter Kristen M. Clark can be reached at Follow @ByKristenMClark.


  1. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  2. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  3. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  4. Vice President Joe Biden, right, talks to supporters as former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, stands near during a campaign stop at at Century Village in Boca Raton, Fla., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Crist is locked in a tight race against Gov. Rick Scott in one of the most negative gubernatorial campaigns in Florida history. The two disagree on most major issues, including health care, the minimum wage, Cuba policy, gay marriage and medical marijuana. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) ORG XMIT: FLAD102 ALAN DIAZ  |  AP
    The Florida Republican-turned-Democrat said Biden’s ‘record of getting things done speaks for itself.’
  5. FILE - In this June 20, 2018 photo, immigrant children walk in a line outside the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children a former Job Corps site that now houses them in Homestead, Fla.  Migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border last year suffered post-traumatic stress and other serious mental health problems, according to a government watchdog report obtained by The Associated Press Wednesday. The chaotic reunification process only added to their trauma. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File) BRYNN ANDERSON  |  AP
    Since Homestead’s closing on Aug. 3, at least $33,120,000 has been paid to Caliburn, the company contracted by the government to run Homestead.
  6. The economies of Canada and Florida go together like, well, palm fronds and maple leaves, as seen outside the Sweetwater RV Resort in Zephyrhills. (Times file photo) KATE CALDWELL  |  Tampa Bay Times
    To qualify under the proposed Canadian Snowbirds Act, visitors would have to be older than 50 and would have to own or rent a home here.
  7. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. The Florida Channel
    School security and early learning get top billing in the first committee meetings of the looming 2020 session.
  8. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran speaks to an unidentified man outside of Tampa Bay Academy Monday, April 15, 2019 in Tampa. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Richard Corcoran has convinced the State Board of Education to sign off on a new funding formula for the 28-college system, which, with more than 320,000 students, is widely viewed as one of the...
  9. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Miami while visiting Ball & Chain in Little Havana for a meet-and-greet with Hispanic voters on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. [CARL JUSTE CJUSTE | Miami Herald]
    While candidates vie for votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states, the struggle in Florida six months from the primary election is about big money.
  10. A view of the I-275 northbound Sunpass lane at the Skyway Bridge. VRAGOVIC, WILL  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The lost money is from unpaid tolls stemming from problems with the vendor Conduent State & Local Solutions.