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To Reduce Jail Overcrowding, Civil Citations Are Advocated For Lesser Offenders

| November 1, 2012

Not always necessary. (Bob Brown)

The state’s criminal justice system has seen some success with using alternatives to lock-ups for juvenile offenders. It’s been so successful that there’s a burgeoning movement to increase the use of non-jail diversion programs with non-violent adult offenders.

Backers of the idea announced on Wednesday an agreement with Leon County by which police will have the ability to issue civil citations to people who commit certain crimes rather than taking them to jail.

If implemented statewide, backers say providing an alternative to jail or prison for non-violent adults could save Florida tens of millions of dollars a year. The program would have significant efffect in Flagler County, where much of the discussion on jail expansion this year has focused on overcrowding, and judges’ lack of alternatives.

“It’s worked so well with the juveniles that we think it’ll work really well with adults,” said Mark Flynn, president and CEO of the Smart Justice Alliance, which is pushing the concept.

The approach works by giving law enforcement officers the discretion to issue a civil citation rather than make an arrest – but only when the offender has no previous record and the offense is non-violent.

Leon County, which includes Tallahassee, was selected as the pilot partly because the concept of juvenile civil citations began here 17 years ago. Also, all the key players needed to make such a move in the county are on board, particularly State Attorney Willie Meggs, Sheriff Larry Campbell and Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones.

Civil citations for juveniles were also a success in Miami-Dade County, where Wansley Walters, now secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, was then the director of juvenile services. DJJ reports that in 2009-2010, roughly 7,000 young people statewide went through the civil citation process, with just 7 percent re-offending. In comparison, one-third of adults released from Florida prisons re-offend within three years.

According to a January 2011 report by the Associated Industries of Florida Foundation, the success of the juvenile diversion programs in Leon and Miami-Dade “suggested that the number of juveniles processed through the system could be reduced by 40 percent through diversion.”

With juveniles, the non-violent offenses that qualify them for civil citations usually involve petty theft or marijuana, said TPD’s Jones.

Asked if leaving such decisions to the discretion of law enforcement officers is wise, Campbell and Jones said that’s how the system works now.

“We do that every day,” said Campbell. “Half of law enforcement is discretion.”

“This program is designed for the lesser offenses…The attitude of the offender may have something to do with it,” said Jones. “Arrests should be our last tool, regardless.”

The “smart justice” coalition’s plan for Leon requires adult offenders to undergo an assessment within 72 hours, perform at least 25 hours of community service, undergo treatment for contributing factors such as drug abuse, theft or gambling – and pay all costs of the program.


Those who fail to meet the conditions face arrest, but clearly the great majority of juvenile offenders have been scared straight.

“They’re held accountable,” said Tom Olk, executive director of DISC Village, who has spear-headed the plan to extend civil citations to adults.

Proponents of the plan say public safety is well served by diverting scarce resources from offenders who don’t need to be behind bars – and targeting dangerously violent felons instead.

“Someone who has made a made a minor mistake won’t be put in with a hardened criminal,” said Campbell.

Reducing the nightly number of inmates in the county jail – now about 1,000 in Leon County – would reduce costs on everything from mandatory medical screening to laundry, Campbell said..

The coalition hopes to take the approach statewide soon. Existing rules adopted by the Florida Supreme Court provide the authority for it, but local circuit courts have to be involved, too.

“We’ve been working on this project on a statewide basis for several years and are finally getting some traction,” said Olk. “We just happen to be the first. I know that there are other circuits that hope to come online in the next couple of months. They’re watching us closely…I can honestly say they don’t have the level of cooperation and support that we do [in Leon]. But we’ve always had it here.”

Olk acknowledged that while Leon and Miami-Dade have long assimilated juvenile civil citations, not all counties agree.

“There are still areas of the state where they don’t (the idea for juveniles), and I’m sure they’re not going to like adult civil citation,” he said.

But he predicted the data would prove his case.

“What does it cost? Is it effective?” Olk asked. “Once we have that data, we think it’ll spread like wildfire.”

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

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20 Responses for “To Reduce Jail Overcrowding, Civil Citations Are Advocated For Lesser Offenders”

  1. glad fly says:

    great idea. this country’s jails are packed and overcrowded with non-violent drug offenders,child support violators,small bad check writers,ad nauseum. this is very costly and unfair to the tax payers. hit them where it really hurts; their wallets. it’s hard for a man to pay child cupport when he’s in jail. put him on house arrest and work only status. if we keep putting non-violent drug offenders and these other penny-ante crime folks in jail their want be room for the bad guys. it’s a proven fact jail DOES NOT REHAB people.

  2. Clint says:

    About time. Maybe now they can free up space for the REPEAT OFFENDERS that commit violent crimes.
    And also reduce the burden on taxpayers. Its almost easier for a person to just go to jail and have everything PAID for, rather then try and find a job and pay a mortgage, utilities, health insurance, car payments, etc. If the country falls further into debt we can only expect more programs like this because there will be MANY more choosing jail over the outside.

    • Magnolia says:

      Clint, here’s an idea. In order to make jail less attractive, why not charge the prisoner for his rent and expenses? If he owns property of any kind, the state may as well be able to recoup it’s losses. And if he owns no property of any kind, he can work it off.

      Sheriff Joe Arpiao, where are you?????

      • Clint says:

        Magnolia, your idea has been around for 3 decades. Unfortunately, only about 3% of the prison population has any property or money. And what little monies an inmate might make working in prison already pays the Judicial system one way or the other. You see the Prison systems and the Court systems are actually a VERY lucrative money making business. The more prisoners they get the more money they receive from their state and federal government.

      • Inmate's Wife says:

        Let me explain to you how it works in the REAL world, as the wife of a man who I’ve been married to for almost 20 years who is currently serving a 40 month prison sentence for a first offense DUI felony.

        Prison inmates don’t have money. Any money that they DO have usually isn’t really theirs. It belongs to their families. Families that are usually left economically devastated by the loss of what was often their major breadwinner, legal expenses, and incarceration-associated expenses (phone, mail, canteen money for him, and travel for visitation costs me about $500/mo trying to keep my family together).

        We used to be comfortably middle-class. Now, with the loss of my husband’s income, we are in bankruptcy and I am uninsured despite having a serious medical illness. We would have lost our house were it not for family assistance paying the mortgage. We were on food stamps for part of last year after my husband first went into custody, while I struggled to get my feet under me financially as the family’s new breadwinner.

        You probably think of prisoners as being nothing but single 20-something thugs but the reality is more diverse. The visitation room we sat in last weekend was largely populated by elderly couples, and middle-aged men with families with the all-American mom, dad, and 2.5 kids. The younger people being visited by girlfriends, wives or parents were the exception rather than the rule.

        Seize a house or a car and who are you really seizing it from? Most likely an innocent devastated family that was left behind with no income and huge debt. Put a man into debt to pay for his incarceration and you are saddling not just him but his FAMILY with debt that they can’t get out from under. The families pay a high enough price for our loved ones’ mistakes. Leave our money alone!

  3. blondee says:

    I don’t consider drug offenses to be “penny ante” crimes. Drug users or dealers are a plague on society and need to be kept away from our children.

    • Samuel Smith says:

      I agree, those smokers and drinkers are nothing but trouble.

      • annonymous says:

        Decriminalize just marijuana and tax the crap out of it. You will remove a part of the population from jail and create a new source of tax revenue. In this county they have zero tolerance. Most of the population at the high school has smoked it on at least more than one time. Marijuana does not cause people to commit other offenses, make the minimal age to consume it 18. You will get rid of the dealers, because the government grown crap is so much better that people will rather buy that then street stuff. Plus you are reassured that there on no other drugs mixed in. It is not perfect but even alcohol makes you 10 feet tall and bullet proof. Marijuana does not make you violent and doesn’t make you want to knock over a lil champ. It veges you out. I have long outgrown smoking it, but I can see the possible positives for legalizing it. People who get drunk usually become more aggressive then while sober. Pot doesn’t do that. People get high and play video games or munch out. It would also help the local businesses if they added food delivery to their services. You could employ more people. As far as children doing it, until you are 18, you are not legal to do squat, PERIOD. They should still be punished as they are now. If an adult gets caught selling to a minor that should also be as serious as a person selling alcohol to someone under 21. Driving while under the influence should also have a strict penalty like DUI does now. By doing so, it is no different then waiving a loaded gun in a crowd of people. If you cannot partake at a friends or home, then you shouldn’t be doing it at all. As far as penalizing the inmates, Inmates wife is completely right. The families are the ones who suffer. There are some good people who has made bad choices behind bars. Even if the person has committed a crime and has the potential to commit again, by penalizing them in such a way would hurt the spouse and children most. People need to be punished, but not at others expenses. Yes it is a drain on tax payers, but put them to work while in jail. Make them do tedious boring jobs. Work them hard. Make them earn their keep that way. Do not hurt the families any more then they already have been. It sucks to love a repeat offender, but when you love them and they are the father or mother of your children, it is super hard to just walk away. In some cases an incarcerated dad or mom is better then no dad or mom at all. I also think keeping that bond going also causes some people to not repeat offend. That is the whole purpose of the punishments to begin with. To give people a punishment for crimes committed and also an incentive to not repeat offend. Also educated people behind bars will give them a direction and option other than crime. I do not think the state should pay for a college education, but a vocation is another story, ged is important. Votechs are not that expensive and it is alot cheaper to educate then to lock people up and give them no options. After you have served time, it is super hard to get a job or get people to trust you, but if you actually have a vocation, it becomes a little easier. Make them donate so many hours a week to community service projects to pay back their debt of incarceration. As far as the medical they receive, I do not think that is fair. Medical should be for first aid, for life threatening situations, or for life threatening conditions, not cold and flu treatment. why should you get free unlimited medical, unless you really need it? i knew of people, a while back, who had all their dental taken care of while in there. That is not fair. There are plenty of Americans that are not insured or are under insured. Why should you be rewarded with medical/dental procedures for free when the rest of us has no or crappy coverage? And if they have insurance, it should be billed. Anyhow, that is my two cents.

        • Inmate's Wife says:

          Just noticed it and it completely cracks me up because it illustrates beautifully in one package the total misconceptions about prisoners and the prison system that most people have.

          All those great ideas you are going on about, to make prisoners work, and get education? Yeah, the state already does that. Every single prisoner who is medically able is required to be assigned a job, either working to help run their facility or on a work crew that is contracted to an outside vendor. Some of those outside vendors are local community work squads. And no, they do not get compensated for their work (with a few extremely limited exceptions). The state offers vocational programs (although not enough) and every inmate who does not have a HS diploma or equivalent is required by state regulation to be working towards a GED.

          As far as community service, there are programs run at some camps that do things such as train and rehabilitate shelter dogs to make them more adoptable, but requiring “community service” of every inmate is unrealistic for both practical and security reasons.

          The part that made me really LOL though is your rant about the free medical/dental. The only time anyone in there sees a dentist is when they have a serious problem – and then they will wait weeks without any pain control to have the tooth extracted (that’s pretty much the only offered treatment option because it’s fast and cheap). As for the medical, they do have to pay a copay for their medical treatment and they do not get any treatment that is considered optional, just the absolute barest basics. They don’t treat colds and flu, although you can go to sick call for it, they won’t give you any medicine. On the outside, if your doctor treated you like that, you’d sue him for malpractice, but in there, it’s just standard care. In fact the state is routinely sued by inmates over the lack of medical care. I am aware of several recent suits at just one institution that made news after the medical department repeatedly refused to treat several seriously ill patients until it became necessary to ambulance them to hospital in critical condition – one of the inmates died as a result. I wouldn’t wish the care in there on my worst enemy.

          And really – “if they have insurance, it should be billed?” No one in prison has insurance – they either lost their eligibility when they got sent there or they stopped paying their premiums because they can’t use it in there.

  4. Kendall says:

    It’s time to decriminalize marijuana and possibly legalize it so it can be taxed. Resources in law enforcement, the courts and jails would be freed up, taxes on legal sales of pot can be combined with those resources and we can get the dangerous drugs off the streets.

  5. In addition, one could and should legalize marijuana and enable the legal distribution of it. It is a bit upsetting that we have the highest jail population per capita of any country. And we’re supposed to be the free nation?

  6. glad fly says:

    @ blondee…a person with a joint in their ash tray is hardly a “danger” to your child no more than your neighbor riding around town with a case of Budweiser in the trunk……

  7. Big Brass says:

    The utter stupidity of people never ceases to amaze me. Disagreement of the law, as well as ignorance of the law, has never been and never will be an excuse to break the law. The responsible residents of this city elect officials to pass laws to protect us from law breakers. Get it? The United States has more jails and more inmates than any country in the world because the United States is the only country in the world that actually enforces its laws…with ingenious legal authority and fairness I might add. If the idiot pacifists, who have no stones, would discontinue sharing their ignorance, and move to seattle (hint – where showering is optional), the responsible adults of our community would get on with chain gangs, wage and property garnishment, and general aggressive punitive measures. Better smartin up pretty quick.

  8. Deep South says:

    Sounds like a step in the right direction. Make all that get a civil citation go through a job training program, parental guidance program, household budget program. Teach them to become more responsible and productive citizens, and if they can’t pass, then get them off the streets because they are certainly useless to society.

    • Nancy N. says:

      OK, by your logic, then we should also do those things for people busted drinking or buying tobacco underage or with an open container where they aren’t supposed to have one. All are substance-related civil citations as well. I guess if you get busted drinking underage from now on, we should put you through job training, parental education, and a household budget program and then lock you up for life as “useless to society” if you fail any of them.

      Seems like you believe that people that don’t live up to your high standards even once are completely irredeemable. Do you also believe in stoning as a punishment for adultery?

  9. Taylor says:

    They are never going to do any of those things and nothing is ever going to work… This world these days are insane how many different things have they tried all over and nothing seems to work, i turn on my news now and at least 10 people died while i slept 5 people have been shot and at least 3 stores have been burgarlized all in 8 hours of sleep, they start this crap and guarntee when i turn my tv on then the same crimes will still be committed. you cant help someone that doesnt want to be helped, idiots will continue to stay idiots and the drug dealers will still sling there dope, crimes are never going to stop no matter what they do.. just keep your children safe… Thank you

  10. Jackson says:

    Hey Deep South – I couldn’t agree more. I seriously think that the on-the-job training, guidance programs, and budget programs would help with a percentage, but overall I think that most of these people are scumbags that will not take anything they learn under advisement. After all they went to school to learn the same way right? Maybe not the same lessons, but the style of learning is what i’m talking about.

  11. TawnyR says:

    Here Here Jackson! I seriously doubt any of that stuff will work. Although it may be good and some of the inmates might want to go through that training, but I agree 100% with you — They will not absorb the information.

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