A better way to treat juvenile offenders


Anyone who has heard me speak at public functions knows that when it comes to our children — the future of Broward County — I strongly favor education over incarceration. Likewise, one of my first directives as sheriff was to implement mandatory civil citations.

This year, the Broward Sheriff’s Office has referred more than 230 youths to the Civil Citation Program. That’s 230 children with the opportunity to stay in school and out of jail. That’s 230 second chances, that’s thousands of tax dollars saved, that’s hundreds of lives regained. Due to the proof-positive, life-changing impact of Civil Citations, I support and applaud the Broward School District’s PROMISE Program, which stands for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support, and Education.

Students flourish when they are in school, especially when their schools are nurturing places where they can be safe and learn. Treating children like criminals just doesn’t make sense. The poorly executed combination of overly harsh school policies and an increased role of law enforcement in schools contributed to creating the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Prior to PROMISE, punitive measures such as suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests were used to deal with student misbehavior.

Then, by enforcing zero tolerance policies, we were pushing a large number of children out of school and into our jail system. Zero tolerance policies don’t make our schools safer; they are disciplinary measures that are expensive to enforce. They push children off an academic track and on to a track to prison. Thus, students become the collateral damage of these policies. They lose sight of their future before they have the maturity to reflect on their career options.

The Civil Citation Program and PROMISE intervene to discipline, educate, mentor, and ultimately provide a solution with a positive outcome, one that does not include an arrest record. Unfortunately, many youths who have entered the criminal justice system found it can haunt them for a lifetime.

Whether you are applying for college, housing, or employment, there are countless applications that require a background check.

A criminal record can easily prevent a student from being admitted into a university, receiving a job offer, having a career in law enforcement, or even serving in the armed services.

After more than 30 years in law enforcement, I’ve witnessed countless youths re-offend, and I knew the zero tolerance policy wasn’t benefiting anyone.

Under this new agreement, BSO, together with Fort Lauderdale police, agreed that 11 non-violent misdemeanors will no longer result in arrests if the youth can be diverted through PROMISE or the Civil Citation Program. I am pleased to welcome this necessary change, which will eliminate lengthy suspensions, expulsions, and controversial arrests.

Programs that support education over incarceration will always have my support because they are effective. Since Broward’s school district adopted PROMISE in August, schools have already seen arrests drop by about 40 percent and suspensions are down by 66 percent.

Together we can reduce the schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline. Students understand the need for accountability. When disciplinarians focus on preventing misbehavior through non-punitive, supportive, and effective interventions, we’ll decrease repeat offenses and end the school-to-prison pipeline. New strategies like civil citations and PROMISE put our young people back on the track of success.

As a community, we should measure our success by the number of kids we keep out of jails, not by the number we put in.

Scott Israel is the sheriff of Broward County.

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