The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has released its annual Delinquency in Schools report, and there's some good news: School arrests are down across the state, including Broward and Palm Beach counties. The bad news: black youths are proportionately arrested most in nearly every single county in Florida.
DJJ's report documents the numbers of every school arrest in every county, including race and alleged crime. School arrests include an arrest of a youth on school grounds, school bus or bus stop, and school events. The DJJ has been providing this annual report to the public for the past five years, and it shows that there has been a steady decrease in arrests over that time.
For example, in 2009-10, there were 18,361 arrests of kids in grades six through twelve. In 2013-14, there were 10,340 such arrests -- a 36 percent decrease.
Statewide, though, school arrests are still lopsided when it comes to race. Florida is 56 percent white, 24 percent Hispanic, and 17 percent black, but here's how school arrests breakdown by race:
All charts courtesy of DJJ
The top three offenses were for non-aggravated assault or battery; misdemeanor drug offenses; and disorderly conduct -- all misdemeanors. The next three most arrestable crimes were felonies: aggravated assault/battery; weapons/firearms; felony drug offenses.
According to Mark Greenwald, the director of research at DJJ, the drop in arrests is not necessarily due to a drop in crime, although he does point out that violent crime has been steadily going down across the nation, including Florida, for several years now. However, the crime researcher also credits alternatives to school arrests, such as civil citations and treatment programs for youths who are accused of misdemeanors at school.
And according to Greenwald, Broward County is at the forefront of this practice.
"Last year saw a dramatic expansion in civil citations in Broward County, which has a very close correlation to reductions in misdemeanor arrests and increase in civil citations for misdemeanors," Greenwald tells New Times.
Broward County saw a 51 percent drop in school arrests between 2012-13 and 2013-14, going from 911 to 449. Overall, Broward averages three arrests per 1,000 school youths, with a school population of 138,832. The previous three years also saw steady declines, from 1,672 arrests in 2009-10 to 1,054 in 2011-12.
Greenwald says the civil citations are handled like traffic tickets. Sometimes a fine might be handed out, other times a few hours of community service is required. But for more serious incidents, the old way of doing things was to throw a kid in jail. Nowadays, there's a move towards a more humane -- and smarter -- way of doing things: Give a kid an assessment to see if he or she needs some extra programs to deal with the issues.
"The vast majority of kids, they just did something stupid and they will just need to do some community service or be fined," Greenwald says. "But some youths, there might be something going on underneath the hood, and so that assessment process helps us identity what that need is and we can refer them to other services to address whatever those issues are. And as long as they complete those services, the ticket goes away, there's no formal arrest, and they have no record that's gonna follow them."
Palm Beach County, with a school population of 96,421, has also shown steady declines in school arrests, going from 695 school arrests in 2009-10 to 432 in 2013-14.
However, even though both Broward and Palm Beach counties have seen these declines, the racial demographics are still extremely lopsided.
The DJJ report doesn't provide race numbers for the school population, but the overall demographics of Palm Beach County breaks down like this: 58.2 percent white; 18.5 percent black; 20.5 percent Hispanic.
And the school arrest breakdown goes like this: 71 percent black; 17 percent white; 12 percent Hispanic.
Broward doesn't fare much better when it comes to racially skewed arrests. Though blacks account for 28.5 percent of the population, they make up 74 percent of the arrests. Whites are 40 percent of the population, but only 14 percent of arrests. Hispanics make up the rest.
Other counties around Florida fare even worse.
Alachua County has a 253,000 population that is 64 percent white, 21 percent black, and 8 percent Hispanic. And out of 278 school arrests, 84 percent were black kids, 12 percent white and 4 percent Hispanic.
Alachua averages 20 arrests per 1,000 youths.
Most counties in Florida have a disproportionate amount of black youths getting arrested at school.
However, the county with the highest per capita school arrests might also be the most equal when it comes to race -- but it's still not very equal.
In Suwannee County (pop. 43,734), a 76 percent white county, white kids make up 63 percent of school arrests. But even there, black kids get arrested at a rate that's more than twice the black population: a 13 percent black population makes up 30 percent of school arrests. Hispanics are 9 percent of the overall population and make up 6 percent of the school arrests.
Check out the DJJ's report more statistics around the Sunshine state.
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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@browardpalmbeach.com.
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