By Opio Sokoni, MSCJ, JD
Duval’s criminal justice system continues to fail black youth when compared to what judges, prosecutors and police officers are doing in other counties in the state. Researchers found that Duval County arrested substantially more black youths — 80 percent — than white youths — 64 percent — when the crimes were eligible for a civil citation, “causing a notable racial disparity.” Too often, this happens because leaders do not want to talk about the racism that has always driven the actions of practitioners in the system. Some black leaders become quiet and even sell out black youth when brought to the table of influence.
The group “Stepping Up 2017” released its third annual study on Monday. The group included the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the James Madison Institute as well as other national and state organizations. Its research took a look at the use of civil citations.
Civil citations replace jail with programs more conducive to youth and their future than incarceration and a criminal record. The study finds that civil citations reduced youth reoffending. The study states that youth arrests was significantly reduced last year as counties began to use civil citations and diversion programs to keep first-time offenders from cycling back through the system.
“The recidivism rate for juvenile civil citations has dropped to as low as 4 percent, compared to the recidivism for post arrest diversion that has been as high as 12 percent,’’ the report found.
In Florida, white youth had the highest incidence of arrests while Hispanic youth had the highest rate of civil citation at 61 percent. Black youth had a 52 percent rate of civil citation. Low-level crimes like shoplifting, vandalism or possessing marijuana dropped significantly as a result of youth not being treated as adults in the system. For example, the recidivism rate for seven of the most common youth offenses doubles when youths are arrested.
The study shows that for the second year in a row, Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties issue civil citations to 94 percent of all kids caught in low-level crimes. During the same period, the counties with the worst record were Duval, Hillsborough and Orange.
There is also an economic angle that so many in Duval county seem to not understand. We save taxpayers money by being smart on crime versus the old, tough and dumb racist way. For instance, the study shows that between July 2013 and December 2016, the state saved between $56 million and $176 million by diverting kids from prison and into civil-citation programs. This means that every time a youth arrest is avoided and a civil citation is issued instead, taxpayers save between $1,468 and $4,614.
Executive Director of ACLU of Florida, Howard Simon, stated that “Given the fact that arresting youth for minor misbehavior is the least effective approach and is counterproductive, our No. 1 recommendation is that every county should be developing a policy in which a use of civil citation is the presumptive norm.’’
The report stated that law enforcement agencies “should be required to document, justify and obtain supervisory approval” before making youth arrests. Nevertheless, racists in a racialized system will continue to find creative ways to punish and ruin the future lives of black children. This same type of agency is used to ensure that white kids are not permanently ruined by the same criminal justice system.
[Opio Sokoni teaches criminology as an adjunct professor at Jacksonville University]