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Giving Young Offenders a Second Chance

Published on 2/10/2016

The Orange County Sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Committee was urged Thursday by the League of Women Voters to support the use of civil citations for young offenders, “allowing them to proceed with their futures without a record.”

Former League state president Deirdre Macnab cited Miami as a city that had been very successful in using civil citations to reduce recidivism and said it was vital that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office be the model for the rest of Florida.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a Civil Citation law in 2011 and it was expanded last year to allow a juvenile to receive up to three civil citations for misdemeanors. The law permits a law enforcement officer to issue a warning or notify parents if a youth admits committing a non-serious misdemeanor; issue a civil citation or require participation in a similar diversion program. However, if an arrest is made, the law requires enforcement officers to document why an arrest was warranted.

Sheriff Jerry Demings said he believes that juvenile civil citations would be beneficial to the community but “when our children violate the law there must be appropriate consequences.”

In 2010, he said, 7,124 juveniles were booked into the Orange County Juvenile Assessment Center. By 2015 the number had dropped to 5,659. The majority -- 3,035 were black males and 722 were black females. White males accounted for 1,457 of those booked and white females 145.

Demings said that on any given day in 2002 about 100 children charged with a felony were being held at the Orange County Jail. “Today it is about a third of that number.”

Revamping and simplifying the civil citation form had been vital to the success of the program, Demings said. “We are booking fewer juveniles.”

Cpl. Greg Wynn gave the advisory committee a lengthy, informative and detailed presentation on juvenile civil citations. He said that before the citation form was revamped, which took almost two years, it was so lengthy and complex that law enforcement officers stopped using it.

“You can’t compare the numbers in Orange County to other judicial circuits,” Wynn said. “In other circuits you can get a civil citation for domestic violence but in Orange you go to jail for domestic violence because the State Attorney and Chief Judge will not allow it.”

He said 1,422 deputies had to be trained to use the forms and 201 citations were issued last year. The top three charges were for possession of drugs (Cannabis), petit theft (up to $300, usually for shoplifting), and fights, usually at school.

Wynn said law-enforcement advantages of civil citations were:
Cut costs -- transportation, fuel manpower.
No juvenile court appearance for deputies if sanctions are completed, which they are 77 percent of the time.
More efficient use of time and police resources.

Advantages for the criminal justice system included:
Cases not entered into the Clerk of Court system.
Reduction in the number of cases on the Juvenile Court docket.

The biggest advantage for a youthful offender is that it offers the juveniles a second chance and decreases the likelihood that the youth will reoffend, Wynn said, estimating the recidivism rate at close to 9 percent -- 60 percent male, 40 percent females. He said civil citations significantly lower recidivism.

Those not eligible for civil citations are juveniles arrested for sex offenses, weapons possession, animal cruelty, gang activity.

“If we all got arrested as juveniles for everything we did, where would we be today?” Wynn asked committee members.

But he said a major juvenile civil citation issue was overcoming the resistance to change of law enforcement officers. He said school resource officers and Florida Mall deputies were the highest users of juvenile citations.

In addition to Deirdre, those attending on behalf of the League were LWVOC Government Committee members Jim Canty, Andrea Kobrin and Ann Hellmuth.

The next meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 11at the Orange County Sheriff’s Central Operations Center.