By REID TUCKER
Walton County is the 50th county in Florida to implement a juvenile civil citation process, which aims to hold young offenders accountable without involving them in the criminal justice system.
Community stakeholders, among them Sheriff Mike Adkinson, Walton County Chief State Attorney Greg Anchors, Public Defender Lenny Platteborz, Superintendent of Schools Carlene Anderson and COPE Center CEO Rachel Gillis, joined Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Secretary Wansley Walters at the Walton County Courthouse to commemorate the occasion on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
Walters, who leads the initiative for statewide adoption of the civil citation process, said the program benefits not only the children involved but also contributes to cost savings. DJJ reports show that 26,210 of the 96,515 people arrested statewide in FY 2011-2012 were first-time misdemeanor offenders. A quarter of those qualified for civil citation, saving the state a reported $32 million, not to mention the $40,000-plus in costs saved by not having to house youth in a residential correctional facility.
“We want to make sure this is an accountable program and one that also benefits the child,” Walters said. “This is a great opportunity to accomplish something for these children and to thin the costs in our court system and the workload of the state attorney’s office by being able to handle these children outside the court system.”
That being said, Walters was quick to point out that youths who find themselves in the civil citation process are getting more than a slap on the wrist. Sanctions, usually some kind of community service, are assigned on a case-by-case basis via mechanisms like the Teen Court program, and if the first-time offender completes the program then they walk away without an arrest record. However, the arrest record stands if a juvenile offender does not complete the program, something Adkinson said serves to place the burden of rehabilitation on the shoulders of the child.
“One of the things we see is that there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to dealing with children,” he said. “Every child should not be arrested and taken to jail. There needs to be a common-sense approach to this problem, and [civil citation] is a good option.
“It’s crucial for us to remember when dealing with [civil citations] is that these juvenile offenders are not getting off the hook; they’re getting a second chance. It puts the onus of responsibility for the corrections process on the child, which is often where responsibility is more apropos.”
By REID TUCKER