By Emma Kennedy, Pensacola News Journal
Escambia County criminal justice officials have agreed to use more robust juvenile civil citation criteria in an effort statewide faith-based leaders hope will lead to the implementation of an adult civil citation program.
First Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden said in a recorded video that she, the public defender, the Escambia County sheriff, the former interim Pensacola Police Department chief and the Department of Juvenile Justice director have signed a new agreement that flips the switch on civil citation thinking.
A civil citation is a pre-arrest diversion where if a qualified juvenile — usually those committing first-time, non-violent offenses — admits their wrongdoing, agrees to any necessary programs like anger management, for example, and has the blessing of victims of the crime, they will not be arrested.
The new agreement says that while law enforcement has the discretion to decide between an arrest and a civil citation, they must now default to a civil citation, and if they arrest a minor, they must include on the arrest report why they are doing so.
“It’s a win-win for everyone in the community,” Bowden Madden said in a recorded video submitted to a group of faith-based leaders spearheading a statewide effort to expand both juvenile and adult programs.
That faith-based group, called Call to Justice, met remotely via Zoom Tuesday night with about 300 people in attendance to commend programs making strides in low-level pre-arrest diversions.
Several other counties across the state have reached a goal of 80% of eligible juveniles having received a civil citation, and some have implemented more rigorous processes like implementing a second screening process at the time of arrest where another official would review the case’s circumstances.
Escambia County law enforcement has been using juvenile civil citations for years, but not as aggressively as criminal justice advocates would like. The county does not have an adult civil citation program.
The Department of Juvenile Justice’s civil citation dashboard shows that Escambia County agencies — which includes more than those signing the new agreement — only issued a civil citation in 34% of eligible cases last year, compared to a 55% statewide average.
Now, the Call to Justice faith leaders are meeting with state attorneys and sheriffs to expand those programs to include adults who have committed non-violent, misdemeanor offenses.
The Rev. Tan Moss, from ICARE in Jacksonville, said many are caught in a cycle of nonpayment of fines that leads to a warrant, an arrest and a spiral of other issues like missing work and losing housing.
“Too many people from Florida are getting arrested because they are poor,” he said. “Criminalizing poverty is what our community has done over the last decade and it has to stop. The problem is these arrests have devastating effects on people’s lives.”
Miami-Dade County is leading the adult civil citation effort, and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a video during the presentation that citing someone in lieu of arrest saves police an average of an hour per case.
“This means officers can address low-level offenses and return to the streets faster,” she said.
While Escambia County has not announced an adult civil citation program, Bowden Madden said recently that talks have begun locally to hash out what such a program would look like. She said there’s been a change in culture in criminal justice leadership and a realization across the country that pre-arrest diversions for those who are eligible save time and money without compromising public safety.
The Escambia County leaders will meet again in mid-2022 to assess the program’s progress, success or any changes that need to be made.
View the original story here.