Should an $8 Mistake Ruin a Life?
Today I was proud to represent PACT Miami (People Acting for Community Together) in front of the Dade Delegation to Tallahassee on one of our most important juvenile justice issues. We are asking that the excellent civil citation program that our local police forces have implemented in Miami-Dade be expanded consistently throughout the entire state. Here's what I asked our local State Senators and Representatives to do:
I speak today for the 10,000 children last year whose lives were ruined when they made a foolish mistake. I speak for Sami Hernandez who stole an $8 bracelet when she was 12 and was arrested. Later, when she applied for a job as a medical technician she was disqualified. I speak for Natalie James whose12-year old son was arrested on a minor marijuana charge. Later, he wanted to serve our country in the armed services, but was turned down.
The stories of adult lives ruined and impoverished because of foolish behavior are a narrative we hear across the state of Florida, but not so much any more in Miami Dade because we came together to implement a unique Civil Citation program designed to break the costly school-to-prison pipeline.
We ask you to support Senate Bill 196 and House Bill 205, which will expand civil citations to every eligible child in Florida, not just here. I know …. a “citation” sounds to some like a simple slap on the wrist or a written warning, but it isn’t. These children are required to participate in restitution and atonement programs. They are asked to do community service, apologize to the victim, pay them back, thank the police officer, receive counseling to get at the root behavior.
It’s a rigorous program and it works. Fewer than 5% of juveniles re-offend after going through the civil citation program.
As adults, our job is to help children learn from their mistakes and be better for them. These bills ensure that all children have that opportunity -- a chance at a full productive life without a record.
Honored delegation, on behalf of PACT, I ask for your support so that children who behave foolishly are sternly spoken to, asked to apologize, learn from their mistakes, and are never arrested for them.
We must correct children who make first-time mistakes, but we should not permanently mark them as criminals.