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.
In 2014, ten Florida organizations in the DART Network joined forces to secure big changes in the Juvenile Justice System. The arrest of 13,000 children for minor mistakes was a travesty for people of faith who believe in second chances. Not only did it ruin the lives of children but resulted in a waste of taxpayer dollars by $4,500 each arrest.
Hundreds of people from over 200 congregations shared stories of their experiences with the criminal justice system and, each year through 2017, brought out 15,000 people to press local law enforcement officials and legislators to increase issuance of civil citations. Early support was provided by the Florida Catholic Conference of Bishops, to be joined later by the Bishops of the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Church of America, and African Methodist Episcopal Church. In the ensuring four year period:
a) The use of Juvenile Civil Citations increased dramatically from 32% to 60% statewide,
b) Counties, with DART related organizations, significantly cut youth arrests and began to divert juveniles, some for the first time, to programs that would not result in an arrest record. A list of these counties include: Sarasota, Hillsborough, Lee and Polk. Other counties added eligible offenses (Hillsborough and Palm Beach) or committed to reach at least 80% issuance of civil citations (Duval and Broward); Miami Dade and Pinellas County continued to lead the way at >90%.
c) The first of our coordinated statewide efforts resulted in passage of a 2015 bill to expand civil citations from “one time only” to three times; nearly 500 juveniles have received a second or third in the time after implementation.
In the summer of 2017 a team of leaders from DART related groups held special meetings with legislators to reach agreement on the elements for a new bill and secured sponsors in the House and Senate. Teams from the organizations around the state met with legislators, law enforcement officials, held prayer vigils, met with Legislative committees, sent thousands of postcards and brought out thousands of people for Actions. All efforts, calls and eyes were on the Legislative Session that would end March 9, 2018.
And, we are excited to announce that SB 1392 passed in the last five minutes of the 2018 legislative session —-and the Governor signed it on Good Friday.
Effect of SB 1392
1. Requires Law Enforcement agencies to provide uniform and timely criminal justice data for juveniles who are arrested, including why eligible juveniles were not given a Civil Citation, along with other critical information.
2. Requires each Circuit to create a juvenile civil citation and pre-arrest program.
3. Discontinues the $75 fee for juvenile expunction of records.
4. Retains records in a prevention web for juveniles who get a first time post-arrest diversion or get arrested without filing formal charges, thereby protecting the record from future background checks.
5. Encourages each Circuit to create an adult pre-arrest diversion program and requires a new system for annual data collection that must be available on the website.