April 7, 2014. News-press.com
The third annual Lee Interfaith for Empowerment “Nehemiah Action” began Monday night with a rousing praise choir and congregants from eleven churches getting on their feet and dancing.
They are calling on local and state officials to commit to a better solution to dealing with juvenile delinquents, at their assembly at Harborside Event Center in downtown Fort Myers. Organizers expect more than 1,000 attendees.
The churches want law enforcement and 20th Circuit Court officials to use state-approved civil citations for first-time juvenile offenders instead of arresting them and charging them with a misdemeanor charges, thus, decreasing taxpayer costs and preventing recidivism.
LIFE Vice President William Glover said even though the Lee County Sheriff’s Office reports only using civil citations in 18 percent of allowable cases, they work 99 percent of the time.
“If it’s 99 percent effective, why not use it 100 percent of the time,” said Glover, who’s also pastor of Mount Hermon Ministries.
In addition, the cost per child for a civil citation is $385 versus $5,000 when the child is processed in the court system.
LIFE wants law enforcement officials to use civil citations 80 percent of the time, and they will set timelines tonight, if officials agree.
In attendance will be a representative from the Fort Myers Police Department. Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott is not attending, but Glover said the group had a productive meeting with Scott, which he expects will increase the use of civil citations and further research internally. One disappointment, Glover said, was that Cape Coral Police Department would not be present even after participating in the research and collaboration process.
LIFE also wants to reach are the state attorney, public defender and chief circuit judge.
Other officials in the audience are Lee County commissioners Cecil Pendergrass and Brian Hamman and Lee County Schools Superintendent Nancy Graham.
Also, present is Theda Roberts, statewide civil coordinator for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s Office of Probation and Community Intervention.
“Seeing this many people come to try to make a better way for kids is amazing,” Roberts said.
The event is called “Nehemiah Action,” in reference to the Old Testament biblical book of Nehemiah, a cupbearer for the Persian king who went to the leaders of Israel in a community action to demand that unjust treatment against men, women and children be stopped.
In their first action in 2012, they challenged the Lee County School District to enact anti-bullying training in all schools and to reform the way that students are expelled and sent to Alternative Learning Centers. Last year, the issue was expanding mental health services. Superintendent Graham provided the group a progress report on Monday.
“I do appreciate to you as an organization for standing in the gap,” Graham said.
The congregations involved are: Christ Lutheran Church, Citygate Ministries, Saint Columbkille Catholic Church, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Mount Hermon Ministries, Iona-Hope Episcopal Church, Messiah Lutheran Church, Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Myers, Thomas Alva Edison Congregational Church, All Faiths Unitarian Church and New Life Worship Center.