If it’s too dangerous for businesses and churches to operate as usual, then it’s too dangerous for children to be arrested for first-time minor offenses and forced into contagious jail areas.
Arresting children for first-time common youth misbehavior during COVID-19
Nationally, public health experts are referring to jail areas as "hot spots" and "petri dishes" for COVID-19, while in Florida the virus is the leading killer of law officers.
However, during this era of shutdowns and reduced seating capacities, some Florida counties and cities have continued to arrest kids for minor offenses – such as underage drinking, stealing a T shirt, possession of marijuana, a fight without injury – placing children and law enforcement at much higher risk to contract and spread the deadly virus to their families, friends and throughout their communities.
This trend continues even though these agencies have the option of issuing juvenile prearrest diversion civil citations instead of making arrests. The risk of contracting COVID-19 from a prearrest diversion is very small, while the possibility from an arrest is comparatively high.
From April through October 2020, there were more than 2,000 arrests for first-time common youth misbehavior in Florida – even during a pandemic. In particular, there are seven counties with high arrests rates during COVID-19: Hillsborough, Orange, Broward, Brevard, Lee, Collier and Escambia. However, it’s important to keep in mind law enforcement in many counties are making better efforts to slow the spread of the deadly virus by choosing prearrest diversions over arrests.
Separate from the coronavirus crisis, prearrest diversions are a much better option for public safety, offering better opportunities for youth and advantages for taxpayers. The data shows that prearrest diversions lead to lower recidivism rates, with fewer reoffenders. Prearrest diversions carry no arrest record, which often precludes youth from employment, education and housing opportunities. Also, prearrest diversions cost taxpayers much less than arrests.
This begs the question: Why are some elected officials and law enforcement leaders following the science on COVID-19 but ignoring the data supporting prearrest diversions?
Nationally, public health experts are referring to jail and detention areas as "hot spots" and "petri dishes" for COVID-19, while in Florida the virus is the leading killer of law officers.
Key Findings 2019-20
Key Finding # 1: Some Florida law enforcement leaders are hurting efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus as their agencies continue to make arrests for first-time common youth misbehavior. Key Finding # 2: Many elected officials and law enforcement leaders continue to ignore the data supporting prearrest diversions. Key Finding # 3: Three Florida circuits – Nine, Thirteen and Twenty -- have multiple law enforcement agencies that rank in the state’s top 12 agencies with the most arrests for first-time common youth misbehavior. Key Finding # 4: The coronavirus crisis has led to fewer children being arrested for first-time minor offenses. Key Finding # 5: Pinellas and Miami-Dade counties continue to be the gold standard in Florida for using prearrest diversion civil citations as an alternative to arrests for common youth misbehavior.
To combat COVID-19 in Florida, law enforcement is releasing adults accused of offenses like burglary and cocaine possession. Yet, some law enforcement continue to arrest children for first-time lesser offenses like petit theft and marijuana possession.
An Inconsistent Message on COVID-19
This study provides a short-list of public officials who have called for business closings, prohibited church gatherings or encouraged citizens to stay at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, while simultaneously allowing the harmful practice of arresting kids for first-time minor offenses.
In alphabetical order:
- Brevard County Policy Group - Tampa Mayor Jane Castor - Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister - Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry - Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings - Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller - Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan - Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine
Spotlight: Pinellas and Miami-Dade Counties continue to be models for the state, if not the nation
Pinellas and Miami-Dade counties continue to be the gold standard of how to handle first-time common youth misbehavior. In particular, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaulteri has become a law enforcement model for the state, if not the nation.
Most recently during FY 2019-20, Pinellas County had an arrest rate for first-time common youth misbehavior of only 1% that included eight arrests; and Miami-Dade had an arrest rate of only 4% that included 27 arrests.
Compare this to their neighbors: Hillsborough County had an arrest rate for first-time common youth misbehavior of 53% and arrested nearly 400 children; Broward had an arrest rate of 41% and arrested nearly 300 kids.
Spotlight: Four leaders in Orange and Hillsborough Counties could take a major role in changing policy, but haven't
In Orange and Hillsborough counties, two of the state’s worst for numbers of first-time arrests for common youth misbehavior, there are four leaders who could take a major role in changing policy, but haven’t. Figures below indicate numbers of first-time arrests of kids for minor offenses each official has overseen during their tenures of policy authority. by highest number of arrests: - Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings (6,200 arrests)
- Tampa Mayor Jane Castor (2,200 arrests)
- Orange County Sheriff John Mina (1,400 arrests)
- Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister (1,000 arrests)
Hillsborough County’s nearly 400 arrests for first-time common youth misbehavior in FY 2019-20 were approximately 15-times more than Miami-Dade County and 50-times more than Pinellas County.
Hillsborough and Orange counties continue arrests of very young children, ages 12 and under, for first-time common youth misbehavior in spite of promises for change from public officials.
Hillsborough County arrested a whopping 57 children ages 12 and under, which included 19 kids ages 11 and under, in FY 2019-20. Last year's study also identified Hillsborough County as having high numbers of such arrests.
Orange County arrested 15 kids ages 12 and under for first-time common youth misbehavior, including five children ages 11 and under, in FY 2019-20. This is notable because local public officials have repeatedly promised to address the county’s years-long pattern of arresting very young children for minor offenses. Last year's study also identified Orange County as having high numbers of such arrests.
Orange County’s 376 arrests for first-time common youth misbehavior in 2019-20 were approximately 14-times more than Miami-Dade County and 47-times more than Pinellas County.
Recommendation # 1: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees can help by encouraging law enforcement in seven counties to utilize prearrest diversion juvenile civil citations as the norm, and only make arrests in rare and exceptional circumstances – at least until the pandemic is over.
Recommendation # 2: County health departments in seven counties can inform law enforcement decision-making by comparing the public health risks associated with arresting children for first-time common youth misbehavior vs. juvenile civil citations.
Recommendation # 3: Florida counties and cities should follow the data supporting juvenile prearrest diversion civil citations, just like they are insisting citizens follow the science with COVID-19.
People of color disproportionately hospitalized for COVID-19
"Research increasingly shows that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the United States,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Black people and Hispanic or Latino people were both about 4.7 times the rate of non-Hispanic white people to be hospitalized for COVID-19.”
Arrests for common youth misbehavior are a major entry point to the school-to-prison pipeline, which funnels children, disproportionately youth of color, into the criminal justice system.
An independent, non-partisan study
The Caruthers Institute provides a rare role in public policy research – honest-brokers who advocate for data-based solutions while oblivious to politics. The study does not take funding from foundations, government agencies or nonprofits. Study partners, which provide no funding, share suggestions from their experts -- but the Institute maintains editorial control, ensuring an approach completely independent of any political influence or outside interests.
Cost savings from prearrest diversion civil citations
Prearrest diversions saves taxpayer money because it is significantly more expensive to arrest a youth for common youth misbehavior.
The initial few years of our studies included cost savings, which revealed many local governments could have saved millions annually by better utilizing prearrest diversions.
The formula we crafted for cost savings is nearly 10 years old and needs updated, which is why there has not been cost savings in this or last year's studies. We hope to update the formula in 2021.
Overview: Common youth misbehavior has become criminal
Common youth misbehaviors in the 21st Century now result in dramatically different, and much more punitive, consequences with lifelong impacts.
In past years getting into a fight without injuries, vandalizing a bathroom wall, stealing a tee shirt and underage drinking may have resulted in a trip to the principal’s office or a call to parents.
Today, children -- disproportionately children of color -- are arrested -- handcuffed, placed in the back of a police cruiser, booked and fingerprinted, as well as having the stigma and criminal record that accompanies youth for many years. Having a criminal misdemeanor record can negatively impact employment, postsecondary education, housing and loans for decades.
Other common youth misbehaviors resulting in misdemeanor arrests include disorderly conduct, disrupting school functions, possession of marijuana and trespassing.
Solution: Pre-arrest diversions called “juvenile civil citations” are an effective alternative to arrests for common youth misbehavior
Pre-arrest diversions offer an alternative to arrest for common youth misbehavior. Research in this and other studies show that a type of pre-arrest diversion called a “juvenile civil citation” provide three key benefits: Increasing public safety, improving youth opportunities and saving significant taxpayer money. Conversely, arrests for common youth misbehavior generate more reoffenders, harm youth’s futures, and cost taxpayers more when compared to civil citations.
To be eligible for a pre-arrest diversion, youth must not have been previously arrested, and must complete a civil citation program that can involve community service, a risk assessment to determine likelihood of reoffending, intervention services like counseling as needed, and letters of apology to the victim and law enforcement officer. Civil citation programs usually take 90 days or less to complete.
Data from Florida Department of Juvenile Justice dashboard: