The number of young people arrested in Florida’s public schools decreased by 48 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to a new Florida Department of Juvenile Justice report.
Over the eight-year period, total public school arrests in the state fell from 24,000 to about 12,500 during the 2011-2012 school year. According to the report, 67 percent of all school-related arrests during the timeframe stemmed from misdemeanor offenses, with non-felony assault and battery, disorderly conduct and drug charges accounting for almost 56 percent of public school arrests over the eight-year period.
Additionally, 51 percent of school-related arrests last year were attributed to first-time delinquents, a 7 percent drop from 2010-2011 statistics. In all, 65 percent of school-related arrests in the 2011-2012 school year in Florida were dismissed, not filed or eventually dismissed.
In an press release, DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters encouraged the use of arrest alternatives for youth that commit in-school misdemeanors, including civil citations and intervention services.
“Misdemeanors accounted for 67 percent of all school-related arrests and 51 percent of schoolchildren were arrested last year for their first offense,” he said. “Youth who act up at school should not be deferred to DJJ for ‘punishment,’ forcing them to enter the juvenile justice system needlessly.”
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New numbers released by the Criminal Justice Statistics Center indicate that last year, California posted its lowest number of juvenile arrests in more than half a century.
The 2011 total of 149,563 juvenile arrests is the lowest annual tally since 1957; the first year statewide records were kept.
Even when accounting for a larger youth population in the state, recent figures indicate California teens are less likely to be arrested for severe crimes, such as murder and rape, than young people 50 years ago. Since the 1970s, youth crime has been on a downward spiral in the Golden State, with the number of violent offenses perpetrated by juveniles plummeting by 50 percent over the last four decades.
With reports from all 58 counties analyzed, researchers noted a 17 percent decrease in California juvenile arrests from 2010 to 2011, with violent and property offenses dropping by 16 percent, and status and misdemeanor offenses dropping by 21 percent. Overall, juvenile murder arrests plunged by 26 percent over the one-year window.
Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice (CJCJ) senior research fellow Mike Males said that it’s difficult to pinpoint one factor that explains such a dramatic statistical decrease.
“We looked at law changes,” he said, “if anything, with one exception, laws expanded to include more people than they would in the past.”
The exception that Males notes is a recent change in the state’s marijuana laws, in which misdemeanor possession was reduced to an infraction as opposed to an offense that results in arrest. That policy change, he said, may account for as much as a quarter of the decrease in juvenile arrests over the last year.
In assessing contributing social factors to the decline, Males said the most apparent influence has been the decrease in the total number of youths living in concentrated areas of poverty within the state.
“The problem is, this juvenile crime drop has not been talked about,” he said. “We have to start changing the whole way we think about criminal offending by age, and especially get away from these emotional depictions of juvenile crime based on single, horrific incidents.”
With the newfound statistics in mind, Males said it’s time for social stakeholders to reassess the issue of juvenile justice. “I think we have to stop talking about youth as a crime-prone population,” he concluded.