City Council takes up juvenile civil infractions

State Attorney Angela Corey addresses council

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After meeting with State Attorney Angela Corey Tuesday night, City Council has decided to delay its decision on increasing civil citations.

Civil citations are used as alternatives to an arrest and to keep young people from getting a criminal rap sheet.

Duval County is ranked low when compared to others in usage of civil citations. Corey told the Council that there's a big reason for that, and that Duval County has a lot of other ways to keep people from going to jail other than civil citations.

Corey and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti arrived at the City Council meeting with different opinions on civil citations.

"We are arresting too many kids and instead those kids should be given civil citations," said Vitti. "It works. Let's stop arresting kids. Let's get to root of the problem (and) find out why they're making mistakes."

"The State Attorney's Office diverted 83 of 100 cases where kids got non-arrest diversion," said Corey. "This means those kids will not have a criminal record."

Here's how the process works: Police issue civil citations, not the State Attorney's Office. So, if police respond to a fight, they determine whether to arrest someone or give them a civil citation.

If the offender is arrested and not given a civil citation, it goes to the State Attorney's Office and they determine whether to prosecute. If they are given a civil citation, the State Attorney's Office never investigates it.

Vitti said the issue for her is that if a student is involved in a fight, or hits someone, or anything that's considered a misdemeanor battery, they can't be given a civil citation. In Jacksonville, they have to be investigated.

"I've seen good kids make bad decisions and wind up in the criminal justice system and their whole lives are ruined," said Vitti.

Corey said the main reason Duval County has such a low civil citation rate, compared with other counties, is because many other counties in Florida don't have other diversion programs that keep kids out of jail. She said no one seems to know about these programs because people are only focusing on civil citations.

"As I've stated over and over and over again, we can still divert a battery case without an arrest and we do it quite often," said Corey.

But City Councilman Warren Jones questioned if civil citations are a simpler process.

"The process of having an arrest removed is not easy, it takes time, it takes money and a lot of these kids don't have that," said Jones.

The City Council will look at this issue again in multiple committees, and Corey's office will be present for those meetings so the Council can fully understand whether Jacksonville prosecutors do enough work to keep kids out of jail.

About the Authors: