HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY SHOULD EXPAND JUVENILE CIVIL CITATION PROGRAM

Later this month the Hillsborough County Juvenile Justice Board will meet to consider expanding the civil citation program. The civil citation program is a way for juveniles to avoid an arrest and conviction for a petty crime. Instead of making an arrest, the police officer can give them a civil citation. They are then referred for an assessment, counseling, or some other intervention.

Currently Hillsborough County is the only county in Florida that doesn’t allow officers to give a juvenile a civil citation for marijuana possession. The only one. If a juvenile is caught with marijuana they are charged with a misdemeanor and are sent to the county juvenile assessment center. This can result in a permanent criminal record that will follow them for the rest of their lives.

This needs to change.

Mark Ober, the State Attorney and chief prosecutor for Hillsborough County, has now said that he is open to expanding the civil citation program to include marijuana offenses. Sheriff David Gee remains opposed.

State data show that recidivism rates for marijuana civil citations is just 5 percent, the same as other offenses under the program. Most striking is the statistics for juveniles arrested in Hillsborough County. From 2013 to 2014 there were 2,953 juvenile arrests. African-American children made up 53.7 percent of that number, although they only make up 17 percent of the county’s entire population.

A juvenile arrest will hurt that person’s prospects in life. It can lower their likelihood to finish high school, and increases their chances of getting arrested in the future.

Let’s hope that Hillsborough County comes to its senses about juvenile marijuana possession and expands the civil citation program to include it.