School delinquency down, but minorities, disabled most arrested
By Margie Menzel
The News Service of Florida
The Capital, Tallahassee, FL — A new study by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice shows delinquency on school grounds has dropped by roughly half in the last eight years.
But minority students and those with disabilities continue to get arrested at more than double the rate of other kids.
The DJJ report released this week found the number of all Florida youth arrested at school dropped by 48 percent between Fiscal Year 2004-05 and FY 2011-12. The arrest figures correspond to “a downward trend in juvenile delinquency in all categories across the state,” according to the report.
Sixty-seven percent of all school’s related arrests were for misdemeanors and 51 percent of arrests last year were for first offenses.
That prompted DJJ Secretary Wansley Walters to call for more alternatives such as civil citations, which give law enforcement officers the option of ticketing offenders for minor crimes instead of arresting them.
“While these numbers continue to move in the right direction, there is much work to be done to reduce unnecessary arrests in our schools,” Walters said in a statement. “Youth who act up at school should not be referred to DJJ for ‘punishment,’ forcing them to enter the juvenile justice system needlessly.”
Black youth accounted for 47 percent of all school’s related arrests, although they represent 21 percent of Florida youth aged 10 to17. And Exceptional Student Education (ESE) students accounted for 29 percent of arrests on school grounds, although they represent 14 percent of Florida public school students.
“Both statistics are concerning,” said Julie Ebenstein, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “And also that there were so many arrests for misdemeanors… An arrest in school often stays on a child’s record for the rest of their life.”
“The Florida numbers are not unusual, but are also not acceptable,” said Deborrah Brodsky, director of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University. “Nationally, children of color are overrepresented at nearly every point of contact with the system – from juvenile to adult. Even when charged with the same offense, minority children are more likely to be incarcerated and even to serve more time than whites.
“These are unacceptable realities that need to be addressed in Florida and across the country,” Brodsky said.
As to the higher rates of arrest for students with disabilities, Ann Siegal of Disability Rights Florida said such students are often arrested for behavior inherent to their condition.
“In the schools, students are being arrested for manifestations of their disability due to lack of either the appropriate supports or training,” Siegal said.
David Utter, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, lauded the drop in school arrests. But, he said, “the real story is the intransigence of the school-to-prison pipeline. The percentage of children arrested for misdemeanors has hardly budged – that’s the issue here.”
In 2010, he said, nearly 25 percent of students who were arrested at school had their charges dismissed outright by state attorneys.
The DJJ report found that in 2011, 65 percent of school-related delinquency arrests were ultimately dismissed, not filed or received some type of diversion service. It also found that Black youth were more likely to have their cases ultimately dismissed than their white counterparts.