A fight involving pushing but no injuries, a $10 tee shirt stolen from a surf shop, a 17-year-old caught drinking a beer, a bathroom wall vandalized -- all common youth misbehavior that can result in a misdeanor arrest leaving youth with a criminal record that harms their future education and employment.
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.
Florida arrested 38% of children caught committing first-time common youth misbehavior.
Statewide, 38% of the youth caught by law enforcement committing first-time common youth misbehavior were arrested, while 62% were issued prearrest diversion juvenile civil citations. More specifically, of the over 16,000 children eligible for first-time pre-arrest diversion last year in Florida last year, 6,190 children were arrested and 10,139 were issued civil citations.
This is similar to 2017-18, when 39% of eligible youth caught by law enforcement committing minor offenses were arrested.
By comparison, the state’s top-performing county, Pinellas, had a 3% arrest rate for first-time common youth misbehavior.
Two of the state's top 10 law enforcement agencies with highest number of arrests are in Hillsborough County.
Six offenses accounted for nearly 90% of first-time arrests for common youth misbehavior
1. Non-aggravated assault and battery: 48% of arrests
2. Petit larceny: 13% of arrests
3. Misdemeanor violation drug laws (marijuana): 12% of arrests
4. Disorderly conduct 7%
5. Misdemeanor alcohol offenses 4%
6. Misdemeanor obstruction of justice 4%
By comparison, Pinellas County had Florida's lowest arrest rate for first-time common youth misbehavior at only 3%.
Pinellas County led the state with first-time pre-arrest diversions in 2018-19
Pinellas County was the state’s top performer in 2018-19 with a first-time pre-arrest diversion utilization rate of 97%. Miami-Dade was the only other county to achieve in the 90% range. Six counties – Pasco, Washington, Monroe, Clay, Duval and Putnam -- had rates in the 80% range.
Additionally, the Pinellas County School District led the state in using first-time pre-arrest diversions with a utilization rate of 100%, issuing civil citations to all 349 students who were eligible. This is the first
instance of a larger school district achieving a 100% utilization rate.
All of this shows Pinellas County as a model for any county or district in the state that wants to use prearrest diversion to increase public safety, improve youth outcomes and save taxpayer money.
Other top-performing school districts in the 90% utilization range were Putnam, Hernando, Pasco, Clay, Collier, Palm Beach, Hendry, Nassau, St. John’s and Broward.
Key Findings 2018-19
- Statewide pre-arrest diversion utilization rate for children caught committing first-time common youth misbehavior plateaued in 2018-19.
2. Pinellas and Miami-Dade counties led the state in use of first-time pre-arrest diversions.
3. Pinellas County School District led the state in using first-time pre-arrest diversions.
4. Orange and Hillsborough counties continue years-long struggles with high arrest rates for first-time common youth misbehavior.
5. There were 10 law enforcement agencies (only three in metro areas) responsible for one-third of all first-time arrests for common youth misbehavior statewide in 2018-19.
6. More than 600 young children ages 12 and under were arrested for first-time common youth misbehavior in Florida last year.
The Florida Legislature should closely watch next year’s statewide utilization rate and be ready to act if underperformance continues.
The Florida Legislature should set very high requirements for arrests of preteens for first-time common youth misbehavior.
Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Frederick Lauten should reconvene stakeholders to adopt new policies and approaches that will (finally) reduce arrests for common youth misbehavior.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren should engage law enforcement and lead new policies that will (finally) reduce arrests for common youth misbehavior.
Five years of studying arrests for common youth misbehavior and pre-arrest diversions in Florida
This study is the fifth annual of the Institute’s ongoing research on arrests for common youth misbehavior and pre-arrest diversions in Florida. The five years of research, 2014-15 to 2018-19, has also included nearly 300 county reports. Because Florida leads the nation in effective pre-arrest diversion efforts, the Institute’s research has national relevance.
Five years of research -- 2014-15 to 2018-19 -- reveals both good news and bad news.
The good news: Top 5 takeaways from 5 years of research (2014-15 to 2018-19)
- Juvenile civil citations increase public safety, improve youth outcomes and save significant taxpayer money when compared to arrests.
- Florida leads the nation in pre-arrest diversion.
- Nearly 50,000 youth have been issued civil citations instead of being arrested.
- Use of pre-arrest diversion has increased nearly 20 percentage points..
- Pre-arrest diversions have saved state, county and city governments up to $220 million.
The bad news: Top 5 takeaways from 5 years of research (2014-15 to 2018-19)
- Taxpayers and youth lose with arrests for common youth misbehavior.
- Use of prearrest diversion can vary per county, per city and per agency - creating geographical unequal justice.
- Pre-arrest diversion utilization rate increases may have plateaued.
- We can expect nearly 20,000 kids to be arrested for first-time minor violations in the next three years.
- Persistent underperforming counties are unmoved by data and evidence.
Study recommendations adopted into law
This annual study has made numerous recommendations over the past five years for changes in laws, policies and systems that have been adopted on state, county and municipal levels. A few examples:
- Requiring law enforcement to document, justify and have supervisory approval to make an arrest for a civil citation-eligible offense. (Study recommendations in 2016 and 2017)
- Requiring all counties / circuits to have pre-arrest diversion programs. (Study recommendation in 2016)
- Increasing pre-arrest diversion utilization and eliminating racial disparity in Duval County. (2017 recommendation and key finding)
Data from Florida Department of Juvenile Justice dashboard: