In 2014, HOPE members started working together to reduce youth arrests by increasing the number of misdemeanor offenses eligible for a youth civil citation in the Juvenile Arrest Avoidance Program policy. At that time, Hillsborough had only a 30% youth civil citation usage rate, thereby arresting 1,050 children unnecessarily. The policy was improved with more eligible offenses, yet we currently are only at a 41% usage rate. This means over half of the children each year are still getting arrested, even though they are eligible for the restorative civil citation arrest avoidance program.
In 2019, 460 children who were eligible for a civil citation for a 1st-time minor misdemeanor offense were unnecessarily arrested in Hillsborough County branding them for life with a criminal record; in 2020, 310 children were arrested (Department of Juvenile Justice). This hinders a child’s ability to obtain certain jobs, get into the military, get scholarships, etc. Of the 460 children who were unnecessarily arrested in 2019, 380 children received post-arrest diversion, which means they got the same services as a civil citation but were still left with a lifelong arrest record. 75 cases were completely dropped; however, these children also have an arrest record.
When a child receives a civil citation, they are twice as likely not to reoffend, and it saves $4,600 of taxpayer money per civil citation. The civil citation program effectively holds children accountable for their actions by requiring community service and counseling while avoiding a damaging arrest record.
Successful youth civil citation programs in comparable counties to Hillsborough, like Polk, Pinellas, and Miami-Dade, all have a secondary eligibility screening in place that successfully diverts children who are eligible. In Hillsborough, we do not have this secondary screening to ensure children get the second chance they deserve. This is why Hillsborough has 41% usage rate for eligible children, while Polk, Pinellas, and Miami-Dade have an 85%, 98%, 93% usage rate respectively (DJJ, Jan.-Dec. 2020).
In other counties, the screening is done by the State Attorney’s Office or other decision maker before the paperwork is entered into the Clerk of Court’s system, which is the moment at which an arrest record is created. We want a secondary eligibility screening implemented in Hillsborough County that screens all children for civil citation eligibility before the paperwork is entered into the Clerk of Court’s system.
At our Statewide Call to Action in July 2020 with 500 present, State Attorney Warren committed to get youth civil citations up to at least an 80% usage. A secondary eligibility screening process in place for all children arrested for first time misdemeanors is needed to successfully divert all eligible children to a civil citation. State Attorney Warren has drafted a proposal to implement a screening.
HOPE is pushing Criminal Justice Stakeholders to implement a secondary eligibility screening for youth civil citations.