5 Years of Research Findings

5 years of studying arrests for common youth misbehavior and prearrest diversions in Florida

This study is the fifth annual of the Institute’s ongoing research on arrests for common youth misbehavior and prearrest diversions in Florida. The research has also included nearly 300 county reports (thanks to the Florida Department of Juvenile Jusrtice Office of Research for data reporting.) Because Florida leads the nation in effective prearrest diversion efforts, the Institute’s research has national relevance.

Five years of research reveals good news and bad news.

The good news: Top 5 takeaways
from 5 years of research

# 1: Juvenile civil citations increase public safety, improve youth outcomes and save lots of taxpayer money when compared to arrests.

Increase public safety: Youth issued civil citations are less likely to reoffend. The recidivism rate for juvenile civil citations has dropped to as low as 4%, compared to the recidivism for post arrest diversion that has been as high as 12%, according to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.[1] More specifically, when comparing nine of the most common youth offenses, arrests resulted in at least double the recidivism rate for seven of those offenses.

Improve youth outcomes. Pre-arrest diversion programs improve youth opportunities by enabling youth to remain free of an arrest record that could burden them for the rest of their lives — something they may have to disclose on applications for employment, school, loans, the military, housing and other aspects that shape quality of life and determine individual success. Additionally, resources like mental health counseling provided for youth deemed at risk to reoffend increase the likelihood of future individual success.

Saves lots of taxpayer money: Arrests are more expensive than civil citations and divert scarce public safety resources from addressing more severe offenses. Cost savings estimates of issuing a civil citation rather than an arrest range from $1,467 on the low end up to $4,614 per pre-arrest diversion.[2] Florida saves millions of dollars each year (and saved $70 million to $220 million over five years) by utilizing juvenile civil citations. Other studies estimate it costs $5,000 to process one juvenile through the criminal justice system, compared to $386 to issue one pre-arrest diversion.[3]

# 2: Florida leads the nation in prearrest diversion

The Institute conducted national research of arrests for common youth misbehavior and prearrest diversions from 2014 – 2016 with a focus on two categories: State statutes for prearrest diversions and data reporting on juvenile arrests. Florida led the nation in both categories, as well as being one of a small number of state-led efforts (most states did not have statutes nor reported statewide juvenile arrest data.) Additionally and anecdotally, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has for years received requests from other states to learn more about Florida’s prearrest diversion approach.

# 3: Nearly 50,000 youth issued civil citations instead of being arrested

In the past five years, nearly 50,000 youth were issued a juvenile civil citation instead of being arrested. These youth faced appropriate consequences for their actions, which included community service, a risk-screening for reoffending, services like mental health counseling if needed, and sometimes making amends with the victim through restorative justice.

# 4: Use of prearrest diversion has increased nearly 20 percentage points (in four years)

Prearrest diversion use for first-time common youth misbehavior is increasing. Prearrest diversion was used in 43% of instances in fiscal year 2014-15. Four years later in 2017-18 the rate had risen to 61%.

# 5: Prearrest diversions have saved state, county and city governments up to $220 million

Prearrest diversion saves taxpayer money because it is significantly more expensive to arrest a youth for common youth misbehavior. Florida’s five-year estimated cost savings is $70 million to $221 million (using the range of $1,467 to $4,614 per civil citation[4].) The range takes into account post-arrest diversion, not presuming all that are arrested will be prosecuted to a trial. Other estimated cost savings of Florida prearrest diversions (like those by Florida TaxWatch and Florida Associated Industries) use higher arrest and prearrest diversion cost estimates and therefore would likely project even higher cost savings.1

[1] Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Comprehensive Accountability Report, 20016-2018 http://www.djj.state.fl.us/research/reports/reports-and-data/static-research-reports/comprehensive-accountability-report

[2] Criser, Marshall, III, Bob Stork, Allison DeFoor, Dominic M. Calabro, and Robert Weissert, Esq. Expansion of Civil Citation Programs Statewide Would Save Taxpayers Tens of Millions of Dollars and Improve Public Safety.Publication. April 2011. www.floridataxwatch.org/resources/pdf/04152011civilcitation.pdf.

[3] Civil Citation Part of the Community, Part of the Solution. May 2012. Florida Department of Juvenile Justice powerpoint, http:// www.djj.state.fl.us/docs/quality-improvement---residential/2012-civil-citation-powerpoint

[4] The Caruthers Institute, “Stepping Up: Florida's Top Juvenile Civil Citations 2016" 2016 http://caruthers.institute/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Stepping-Up-Floridas-Top-Civil-Citation-Ef

Whether juvenile civil citations are more effective than arrests for common youth misbehavior is not a question to debate. Juvenile civil citations measurably increase public safety, improve youth opportunities and save lots of taxpayer money when compared to arrests.

The bad news: Top 5 takeaways
from 5 years of research

# 1: Taxpayers and youth lose with arrests for common youth misbehavior

Taxpayers are fleeced by arrests for common youth misbehavior. Arrests cost substantially more and have significantly higher recidivism rates (as detailed above) than juvenile civil citations. Additionally, arrests for common youth misbehavior damage and destroy youth futures in terms of being denied education, employment, housing and other key quality of life factors (as described above.)

# 2: Use of prearrest diversion can vary per county, per city and per agency - creating geographical unequal justice.

Whether youth are arrested or issued a civil citation can depend on the county or city where a youth is located when committing the offense, as well as the law enforcement agency that confronts her/him. Some counties mandate juvenile civil citations and arrest only in rare and exceptional circumstances, while others only occasionally use prearrest diversions. This is due to the discretion provided to counties, cities, law enforcement agencies and school districts on how they implement their programs. The result: Unequal justice by geography. This means two youth committing the exact same offense but in two separate counties could be treated dramatically different with one being arrested and one receiving a juvenile civil citation.

#3: Prearrest diversion utilization rate increases may have plateaued

Last year -- for the first time in five years -- there was no significant year-over-year increase in prearrest diversion utilization (only a 1% increase in 2018-19) for first-time common youth misbehavior. This represents a plateau from past annual utilization increases that included 7% in 2017-18, 6% in 2016-17, and 5% in 2015-16. The concern is the flat increase will continue in future years, showing a disregard for the data that proves prearrest diversions increase public safety, improve youth outcomes and save lots of taxpayer money.

# 4: Nearly 20,000 kids will be arrested for minor violations in the next three years

Based on the current trends, over the next three years the Institute estimates that nearly 20,000 Florida children will be arrested for first-time common youth misbehavior – acts that in previous days resulted in a trip to the principal’s office or a call to parents.

# 5: Persistent underperformers are unmoved by data and evidence

While top-performing counties like Pinellas and Miami-Dade have shown the way, the perpetual laggards do not appear interested in fully utilizing prearrest diversion – instead preferring arrests for common youth misbehavior. Large county laggards like Orange and Hillsborough with only 45% and 56% prearrest utilization rates in 2018-19, as well as smaller ones like Hardee and Gadsden with zero utilization rates, seem unmoved by the data that shows arrests for common youth misbehavior harms public safety, diminishes youth futures and burdens taxpayers.

Key Findings 2018-19