Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Hillsborough should expand civil citation program for youths

Published Sep. 23, 2016

Juveniles should not be shut out of college or the job market because of a childish mistake, which is why Florida's juvenile civil citation program is so vital in giving small-time offenders a second chance and in avoiding the prison pipeline. Hillsborough County, which has not used this program as effectively as others in Florida, should look to divert more juveniles away from the criminal justice system and toward more productive lives.

Civil citations are a means for counties to deal with common youth crimes without having to subject a juvenile to the cost and hassle of an arrest or the stigma of a criminal record. Rather than send a juvenile through the court system for vandalizing property, trespassing or other petty crimes, authorities issue a civil citation, which requires offenders to take responsibility for their actions, perform community service and undertake counseling. Juveniles are spared an arrest record, and citations are cheaper for local communities than arresting and housing a juvenile in jail. While the counties differ in how they administer the program, and in what crimes are covered, civil citations generally are offered for non-violent misdemeanors.

Statistics from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice show that Hillsborough trails other counties in its use of civil citations. While comparing the "utilization rate" can be tricky, given that these programs vary widely between the counties, Hillsborough has generally taken a conservative approach. It offers juvenile citations for 11 offenses, including petty theft, criminal mischief and other nonviolent crimes. And it limits eligibility to first-time offenders. In August, Hillsborough added small-time marijuana possession to the list. But other large urban counties, such as Pinellas, consider a broader range of crimes and open the program to second- and third-time offenders in some instances.

Pinellas succeeds by looking at the totality of circumstances in each individual case. Some crimes are too serious for civil citations, and repeat offenders need to show a pattern that their crimes are isolated cases in an otherwise lawful life. This is the sort of disciplined judgment call that other jurisdictions could employ to bring more juveniles into the program.

The inter-agency group that coordinates the Hillsborough program, which includes the state attorney, public defender and law enforcement groups, is exploring whether to apply the citations to a broader range of crimes. Authorities also want to expand the intake capacity of the juvenile center, to create more space to hold juveniles while their parents are being contacted to collect them. These are good ways to spare more young people from the damage that can come with an arrest record.

The program is a commonsense alternative for many youth that can become a valuable life experience, save taxpayers tens of millions across the state and reduce the prison pipeline over the long-term. And it works; in Hillsborough, nearly 80 percent of the 2,820 kids referred to civil citations in the last five years successfully completed the program, the state attorney's office reports. Hillsborough should look for ways to expand a program that can lead to better outcomes for young people and cost savings that could be better redirected to public safety.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. This photo provided by Florida Department of Corrections shows Cheryl Weimar. Weimar, an inmate at a Florida prison is suing the state corrections agency, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, saying she was left paralyzed after being beaten by four guards. Weimar, and her husband, Karl, said in their lawsuit that her civil rights were violated when she was nearly beaten to death by guards at the Lowell Correctional Institution last month. (Florida Department of Corrections via AP); Photo of Lowell via Florida Department of Corrections Associated Press
    The brutal beating of a mentally and physically disabled inmate at the state’s largest women’s prison raises new concerns. The Department of Corrections says it needs more money to pay guards.
  2. University of South Florida undergraduates gather at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa for the fall commencement ceremony.
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.
  3. The American flag flies in front of the U.S. Capitol dome at sunset on Capitol Hill in Washington.
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
  4. Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
  5. Editorial cartoon for Saturday/Sunday Andy Marlette/Creators Syndicate
  6. Stock photo. MORGAN DAVID DE LOSSY  |  Getty Images/iStockphoto
    I’m a new mom -- again -- and please remember that many mothers would welcome government policies that make it easier for them to stay home with their kids than returning to work. | Column
  7. Josh Hensley, 43, was found in the waters of Kings Bay in Crystal River. He was known for dressing as Jack Sparrow. Facebook
    Here’s what readers had to say in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  8. David Colburn was the former provost and senior vice president of the University of Florida. JAMIE FRANCIS  |  Tampa Bay Times
    He believed that diversity is our strength, and that the way to overcome division is to shine light in dark corners, writes Cynthia Barnett.
  9. Adam Goodman, national Republican media consultant
    With Washington once again failing to embrace reforms following mass shootings, it’s up to Americans to create a movement to demand change. | Adam Goodman
  10. Couple, Lewis Bryan, 36, (back left) and Amber Eckloff, 33, pose for a portrait with their children, (From left) D'Angelo Eckloff, 14, Rasmus Bryan, 4, Ramiro Bryan, 10, Lothario Bryan, 6, and Alonzo Bailey, 17. The family has been living at the Bayway Inn on 34th St S. Friday, Aug. 30, 2019 in St. Petersburg.  MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    When about 40 percent of city households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, something has to change.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement