DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. - Leaders of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment joined on the Westside Monday night to address community issues. ICARE leaders spoke about mental health, homelessness, education and youth crime Monday night, but focused their talk on the civil citation program for teenagers, a program that they say is not getting enough attention.
Leaders are calling for the Sheriff's Office to do more, saying that officers are not issuing enough civil citations to young people who commit first-time misdemeanor offenses.
Monday night, the group hoped to raise the issues with Sheriff John Rutherford, but the sheriff was not able to attend the gathering. ICARE members told Channel 4 that the sheriff is committed to improving awareness about civil citations.
ICARE leaders told the crowd of about 3,000 people Monday night that only 31 percent of eligible youth are receiving civil citations from police officers, instead of getting arrested. ICARE believes that number should be a lot higher because teens are less likely to re-offend if they go through the civil citation program.
"Children need to read," said ICARE's Reverend Georgia Gaston. "Prisons are full of young people who fail school. We need success there. High unemployment particularly on the Westside, people need to find jobs."
The State Attorney's Office oversees the program and approves the citation once they are issued by the Sheriff's Office. Monday night, Channel 4 spoke with people who are connected to the civil citation process to explain how it works once a child is cited.
"It's a first time offense misdemeanor program," said Lawrence Hills, program director for Duval County Teen Court. "They'll call the Department of Juvenile Justice (and) State Attorney's Office to get a clearance. Once that is issued they have to call within 48 hours. We will then schedule them for an intake hearing and then it will either go to teen court or a Neighborhood Accountability Board."
After going to teen court or to a neighborhood accountability board, teens could receive community service, mental health or substance abuse counseling through the program.
Research shows that teens are less likely to re-offend through the civil citation program. ICARE sites the successes officials in Miami have had with the program, saying 86 percent of students go through the Civil Citation Program in Miami-Dade County.
Mayor Alvin Brown also joined in on the discussion Monday night. He promised ICARE that he would form a jobs committee in 60 days and that their sole focus would be on finding initiatives to increase neighborhood and household wealth.
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