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ICARE Assembly Calls For 'Proactive' Approach To Solving City Problems

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Marquise Hardrick
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Taking a proactive stance rather than reactive stance on the city's most pressing issues was the message relayed to about 3,000 attendees at the annual ICARE Nehemiah Assembly Monday night."In order for us to remove the line item for reactionary investment from our budgets, we need to increase the line item for proactive investments in human life," said the Rev. Richard Proctor of St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

The annual Nehemiah Assembly of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment — better known as ICARE — was held Monday at The Potter's House International Ministries.

The event — made up of about 39 different faith-based congregations — has been put on each year since 1997 to tackle the most pressing current issues facing Jacksonville.

Throughout the year, organizers form committees to research areas of concern and recommend evidence-based solutions. This year, members identified those issues as mental healthcare, joblessness, homelessness, grade-level literacy and youth crime.

The group takes their recommendations one step further by calling upon local officials to give a verbal commitment to implementing solutions.

Officials in attendance Monday, included Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, Public Defender Matt Shirk and 10 members of the city council.

Among the issues, ICARE has been most vocal about recently is the county’s controversial track record of civil citation use.

Civil citations are used as an alternative to arrests for youth who commit first-time, non-violent misdemeanors. Instead, they go through teen court or a neighborhood accountability board where they are referred to an intervention program. Upon completion of the program, the criminal charge is removed from the teen’s record. Duval County currently has three such neighborhood boards as well as 11 student accountability boards throughout the district.

Over the last year, the Florida Department reports that 31 percent of eligible youth in the county received citations for misdemeanor offenses.

Monday, the group called on Duval County increase its use of civil citations for eligible youth to 50 percent as well as the expansion of neighborhood and student accountability boards throughout the district.

The call for increased use by church leaders comes on the eve of a vote by city leaders to pass a resolution with the same aim.

The Jacksonville City Council is poised to pass the non-binding resolution seeking more use of the civil citation program Tuesday. The resolution cites several other counties in the state that by comparison used citations in significantly more cases. For instance, Miami-Dade used civil in 86 percent of cases and Pinellas County used the process in about 82 percent of cases over the last year.

However, Duval County numbers fall only slightly below the statewide average of 34 percent.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice reports that each civil citation issued costs taxpayers an estimated $386, while the cost of processing a single youth through the juvenile justice system is an estimated $5,000.

At the 2011 Nehemiah Assembly, State Attorney Angela Corey, Sheriff John Rutherford and other officials agreed to use civil citations for misdemeanors and refer cases to the neighborhood accountability boards.

This year, Brown said the city committed $56,000 towards the expansion of the neighborhood accountability board program

Last week, members of ICARE issued a press release asking Corey, Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford and Chief Judge Donald Moran to attend Monday’s assembly to address their stance on civil citations

On Thursday, following a brief exchange with members of ICARE outside the Duval County Courthouse Annex, Corey indicated that she did not plan to attend this year’s assembly.

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Credit Rhema Thompson / WJCT
Florida State Attorney Angela Corey addresses members of ICARE and the media outside the Duval County Courthouse Annex, April 3, 2014.

In a letter to council members last week, Corey said her office supported civil citations being used for “certain misdemeanors” but did not support citations being used for battery misdemeanors because of the rights of the victims involved.  

She also noted that juvenile cases can also be diverted  in other ways besides civil citations, such as through the states at-large Diversion Program in which prosecutors can review a case with law enforcement and elect to send the youthful offender into the intervention program without an arrest record.

Monday night, Corey’s absence was noted by those in attendance.  

“She told us that she would not be here tonight and that she would not change her stance to allow first-time misdemeanor batteries without injury to be given civil citation,” said ICARE Youth Crime Committee Co-Chair Nancy Ricker. “We’re disappointed in her stance.”

ICARE members said Monday night that Sheriff Rutherford had met with them before the assembly and provided written responses to their recommendations, agreeing to issue a public service announcement about civil citations and to continue schedule trainings about the citation process for officers. However, Ricker said Rutherford did not provide a clear response to the committee’s request that he commit to increase civil citation use to 50 percent by next year.

The call for the increased use was among nights most impassioned calls for action, prompting even an appeal from Vitti and applause from the audience.

“We’re living in a city where not everyone agrees with civil citation,” Vitti said. “Get politically involved, vote and hold individuals accountable, because we are destroying children’s lives.”

The group’s other recommendations this year included the expansion of full-time day center where the homeless can shower, wash clothes and seek job referral services; an open access model to help streamline out-patient care for the city’s 205,000 mentally ill; as well as the expansion of a phonics-based reading method for second through fifth grade students in the district.

“It all works together,” said Brown. “Taking a holistic approach for crime prevention and intervention, the mayor’s mentors, keeping young people focused on their education and positioning them so that they can compete… We all have to do our part.”

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.