Sheriff Scott Israel: Helping our children navigate from childhood to adulthood
From Sheriff Scott Israel
A large part of growing up is learning from our mistakes. The lessons we learn when we are young help to build the strong moral character of our adulthood. As sheriff, I have taken steps to ensure the positive development of many of our county’s youth by mandating civil citations for first-time juvenile offenders. A civil citation in lieu of an arrest provides a much-needed opportunity for a minor who has made a mistake to learn from that mistake. Putting vulnerable adolescents in jail is only teaching them to become career criminals, and arrest records impede employment opportunities and access to credit. After being issued a citation, a child can accept responsibility, obtain appropriate counseling and be diverted away from the criminal court system.
The civil citation initiative has been successful in helping the children and teenagers of our county keep their records clean and their focus clear. In the year prior to my mandating civil citations to eligible juveniles, only 68 were referred to the program. In the 14 months since I made it mandatory, Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies have referred 376 juveniles, more than five times the previous number. That’s 376 children with the opportunity to stay in school and out of jail. That’s 376 second chances. That’s thousands of tax dollars saved. That’s hundreds of lives regained. I am also thrilled to report that approximately 96 percent of the youths who complete the civil citation program do not reoffend.
To further the effort of keeping children in schools and out of jail, last year I signed the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support, and Education) program agreement. P.R.O.M.I.S.E. is an agreement signed by BSO, various agencies and the Broward County public schools. The initiative was a response to the zero tolerance approach, which had previously guided teachers and administrators to discipline children through expulsions, suspensions and unnecessary arrests. The P.R.O.M.I.S.E. program offers alternatives to arrests and suspensions through school counseling sessions and interventions, and aids in ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Since signing the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. program agreement, school-related arrests have decreased by more than 65 percent. In most instances, a student may receive up to four chances to complete the program and learn from a wrongdoing before the school board turns the matter over to law enforcement. Between August 2013 and May 2014, there were 1,955 referrals to the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. program. These students won’t have a criminal record and will have another chance to go on to lead productive lives.
Programs that support education over incarceration will always have my support because they are an effective way to keep kids on the path to academic success. One of our responsibilities as parents, teachers and mentors is to help our children navigate successfully from childhood to adulthood. A coordinated effort from the sheriff’s office, parents, teachers, community groups and leaders is necessary to help safeguard their accomplishments. This effort will not only preserve and enrich the lives of our children, but it will also strengthen the bonds of our community.
Our success must be measured by the number of children we keep in school and out of jail. The civil citation and P.R.O.M.I.S.E. programs are dedicated to the future of our youth.