The criminal justice system is generally the epitome of government control, with any role for civil society usually relegated to the reentry and reintegration of individuals. This is a mistake. Florida’s use of juvenile civil citations shows that civil society can play a valuable role at the front end of the justice system, providing community-based services that help ensure that juveniles stay in the community and avoid the justice system in the future.
Juvenile civil citation and similar diversion programs have proven to be an effective alternative to traditional criminal justice system involvement for thousands of youths in Florida at only a fraction of the cost. This represents a win-win in which the government receives better public safety outcomes for fewer taxpayer dollars while the youths remain in the community and keep their records clean.
Florida’s use of civil citations makes an excellent case for restraint in the criminal justice system. Just because an officer can make an arrest or a prosecutor can pursue a case, does not mean that it represents the best outcome. Community based solutions and services can often do more to address underlying behavior and help individuals get their lives back on track than the heavy hand of government intervention.
Responding to scofflaws may seem like the quintessential government endeavor; the government is, after all, responsible for enforcing our laws. Yet, the civil citation experiment in Florida offers compelling evidence of the value of including and empowering the community to help address societal issues.
Press release: How Civil Society Can Bring About Justice for Juveniles in Florida
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