Pastors, Corey at odds outside courthouse

Clergy wants alternative punishment for teens who commit non-violent crimes

By Ashley Harding - Reporter , Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tensions ran high outside of the Courthouse Annex on Thursday afternoon as State Attorney Angela Corey responded to clergy who gathered to press her on the low number of teens receiving civil citations in Duval County.

They say the number stands at just 31 percent. Corey says the other 69 percent is because there are other ways to divert youth.

"The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice says that only 31 percent are being diverted," one pastor said.

"No sir, that's not what that says," Corey said. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry you think that's what it says. It says that they're issued a civil citation. It doesn't cover notices to appear. It doesn't cover at large diversion. It doesn't cover arrests that are then diverted."

Corey has come under public scrutiny of late, particularly following the Michael Dunn trial.

"I'm committed as a prosecutor and as a person of deep faith in protecting the community that I was born in and that my parents were born in," Corey said. "What I don't appreciate is people trying to put in writing that I'm not doing my job."

UNCUT: Watch Angela Corey engaging group of clergy outside her office

Following the briefing, the clergy declined to respond to Corey's comments.

Cristian Fernandez, George Zimmerman and Dunn were all cases in which critics have accused Corey of over-charging.

Local pastors leveled that complaint Thursday at the prosecutor, saying first time, non-violent juvenile law-breakers in Jacksonville are being systematically over-charged.

One of those pastors with the Jacksonville clergy told Channel 4 that giving civil citations instead of an arrest will save money, but more importantly, give young people a second chance.

"So the statistics bear out that the trajectory for that life, in a sense, we're wasting that young person who has admittedly made poor decisions, but not wrong enough to maybe have the rest of your life taken from you," said Rev. Kent Dorsey.

Dorsey is the co-president of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, or ICARE. He said law enforcement officers need to issue more civil citations to youths when it comes to charging them with non-violent offenses.

Dorsey and other local pastors point to the figures from Public Defender Matt Shirk that show last year, 31 percent of local young offenders were served with civil citations instead of being arrested, and that 31 percent is well below the state average.

Shirk said the civil process would not only save money, but would also be beneficial for families.

"We need to have more community involvement, but it's good for our children, it protects our children's future, it actually fixes the problems that many of our kids are facing today," Shirk said.

Dorsey believes young people who commit non-violent crimes and receive citations are less likely to commit the crime again, as opposed to a child who is arrested and thrown in jail.

"We know that a person who has received a civil citation, the recidivism rate for that is only 4 percent," said Dorsey. "We want our elected officials to hear the voice of the citizens of Jacksonville that come from our faith community."

On Monday, thousands from Jacksonville's faith-based community will gather for their ICARE assembly, hoping to meet with city and state leaders like the sheriff and Corey.

A statement from Angela Corey's office reads, "Ms. Corey has stated her support for law enforcement issuing a civil citation in appropriate circumstances. Ms. Corey has also made it clear that she does not support the citations being issued for misdemeanors like Battery, where there is a victim. Crimes involving victims should always be reviewed by prosecutors before being automatically diverted with a civil citation."

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