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Jacksonville Interfaith Coalition Pushes For Law To Keep Kids Out Of Jail

Five-hundred religious leaders and activists are convening Tuesday in Jacksonville to push for a state law aimed at leniency for minors accused of nonviolent crimes.

Two local advocates say reform is long overdue. They appeared Monday on WJCT’sFirst Coast Connect.

The proposed bill would make civil citations mandatory for young, first-time offenders who commit any of 11 non-violent crimes:

Possession of alcoholic beverages by a minor

Battery (a youth hits someone and there was no injury, VERY different from aggravated assault that causes injury)

Criminal mischief (minor vandalism to a property)

Petit theft (stealing less than $300 worth)

Retail theft (stealing less than $300 worth of products)


Resisting an officer without violence (mouthing off, running or giving false identification)

Affrays and riots (when two or more youth decide to fight)

Disorderly conduct

Possession of cannabis or other controlled substances

Possession, sale, manufacture, etc. of drug paraphernalia

Instead of being arrested for offenses like small-time theft or disorderly conduct, juveniles would instead be cited by an officer and asked to appear before a neighborhood board.

The Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation & Empowerment’s Nancy Ricker said that could rehabilitate minors before they’re drawn into the justice system and possibly more serious criminal activity.

“If we arrest a youth for a nonviolent crime and put them in the process, the likelihood of their becoming a habitual criminal is, if I remember correctly, something like 85 percent chance of that,” she said.

Earlier this year, activistscriticized Northeast Florida State Attorney Angela Corey for her overzealous prosecution of minors and her scant use of the diversion program. Pastor Philip Baber saidCorey’s recentdefeat by reform-minded Republican Melissa Nelson suggests the political climate is more favorable now, after a similar bill failed in the legislature this year.

“It is clear that we are seeing a shift in the perception and in the awareness of the American people, including here in Duval and throughout the state of Florida. We are sick and tired of these severe, draconian measures that are being used to basically turn our children into criminals,” he said.

The Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation & Empowerment, or ICARE, will meetwith some state lawmakers and members of the public Tuesday evening at seven at Christ the King Catholic Church on Arlington Road.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.