Florida A&M University
(BLACK PR WIRE/FAMU-TALLAHASSEE) "" Tallahassee and Leon County will be the first Florida jurisdictions to adopt civil citations as an alternative to arresting adults for first offenses of minor, nonviolent crimes.
Misdemeanors like trespassing, disorderly conduct and petty theft are some of the offenses that are more likely to receive the citations. The new program starts in Leon County in December.
The Florida Smart Justice Alliance, a recently formed coalition that promotes changes in the criminal justice system, helped put the plan together and is pushing to expand the idea statewide. The Alliance says it sees growing support for the idea. The initiative also has the endorsement of local prosecutors, public defenders and judges.
The program is supposed to imitate the impact of juvenile civil citations which led to a decrease in recidivism among youths, said Barney Bishop, vice president of the Center for Smart Justice at Florida TaxWatch.
The citations refrain first-time offenders from getting jail time and a criminal record that would affect them for the rest of their lives. Keeping people out of the system helps prevent challenges an arrest record may pose to employment later, said State Attorney Willie Meggs.
"Your record may be clean, but your name is in the system, so if we can keep people out of the system, it's a good thing," said Meggs.
The Leon County citizens cited must undergo an assessment within 72 hours, perform a minimum of 25 hours of community service, and get treatment for underlying causes of their crime such as substance abuse, anger or gambling. Offenders also must pay all costs of the program and will be arrested if they fail to meet any of its conditions. Common misdemeanors such as marijuana possession and petty theft are some of the charges for which juveniles have received citations rather than arrest, for as long as 17 years in Florida jurisdictions.
State Sen. Bill Montford says it makes sense to give people a second chance, especially when they make mistakes when they're young. The program's advocates say the program intends to save taxpayers' money by reducing costs associated with arrest, jail time and court and preventing repeated offenses, the kind of changes the alliance was created to encourage.
Individual law enforcement officers will have the discretion to decide on a case-by-case basis who will receive a citation or an arrest. "If we intervene early, provide the right intervention, it's going to be less costly and more effective, and that's what we're trying to do here," said Tom Olk, executive director of DISC Village, a prevention, intervention and treatment agency located in Tallahassee.
Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones acknowledged a bad attitude offender might be more likely to get arrested while a cooperative offender would receive a civil citation for the same violation.