Rev. Georgia Gaston (pictured on the homepage) is the former Pastor of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. She has personally seen family members, congregants and friends go through the revolving door of the criminal justice system. She knows that the system is broken at the state level and wants to build power throughout Florida to fix it.
Problem: Nearly 10,000 youth were arrested in Florida last year that were eligible for a civil citation.
Findings: (all findings came from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice)
- 61% of all arrests in the State of Florida are of minors (under 18).
- 53% of all youth arrests in the State of Florida were for misdemeanors.
- The budget for the Florida State Department of Corrections is now $2 billion. Less than 2% of that is used for educational programs.
- The budget for juvenile justice is $180 million and 80% of that goes to private businesses and groups that have contracts with the state.
- There is a state law that allows local officials to issue civil citations to first time nonviolent misdemeanor offenders instead of arresting them. However, several counties refuse to do this and most counties pick and choose what youth they want to benefit from this program. Most times, State Attorneys and Sheriffs are the biggest obstacles.
Possible Solutions to Tackle
- Only 4% of youth that participate in Civil Citations reoffend. However, the State of Florida is not using the program across the board. Youth in Duval County are being arrested for the same offenses that youth in Miami are getting civil citations for. Again nearly 10,000 youth that were eligible for a civil citation were arrested last year. They were arrested and given lifelong records for crimes like stealing socks, throwing an orange or drinking underage. This is unacceptable.
- Two years ago, we got legislation passed that allows discretion for officers to issue civil citations for up to 3 offenses. This will allow youth to get into the program that were never given a chance the first time around.
- ICARE along with 9 other grassroots organizations across Florida got a bill filed that expands the program and ensures that it is implemented equitably across the state. This past legislative cycle, Rep. Ahern and Sen. Flores sponsored legislation to accomplish this. Although the bill passed on the Senate Floor and made it through all committees in the House, it never went for a vote on the House Floor. We are disappointed that the Florida House did not take leadership on this issue. But since we have taken this issue on, arrests for nonviolent misdemeanors have gone down by 40%. We are thankful for the leadership of Senator Gibson and Senator Bean who championed the bill in the Senate and Rep. Davis who championed it in the House.