Benjamin Johnson| Pensacola News Journal | April 26, 2023
State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden announced she would implement an adult civil citation program in Escambia, creating a means to hold nonviolent offenders accountable for crimes without putting a permanent blemish on their record.
Bowden Madden made the announcement Monday night during Justice United Seeking Transformation in Pensacola's annual Nehemiah Action meeting. JUST Pensacola is a coalition of congregations from various faith traditions throughout Escambia County that try to leverage local government to solve public problems. Hundreds of people gathered in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church on Monday to discuss community reforms around housing and criminal justice.
"I enlisted the help of one of my assistant state attorneys (Katrina Saggio-West) and I told her I wanted her to be my point assistant for the program also," Bowden Madden said on stage. "So, we sat down once we had all the materials and we created a program specific to Escambia County."
An adult civil citation program is a joint effort with local law enforcement and the state attorney that allows a person over 18 years old who commits a first-time, nonviolent misdemeanor to receive a citation rather than being arrested and given a court date.
Participants in the civil citation program would sign an agreement with the Office of the State Attorney that the perpetrator would complete community service hours along with possible online courses within 90 days, at which time the charge "will just go away."
"We're going to start small — nonviolent misdemeanor offenses (and) municipal ordinances," Bowden Madden said. "I'm really excited about it."
According to JUST Pensacola, civil citation programs can reduce crime, build police-community relations and decrease money and resources spent on the arrest process while keeping small infractions off of an arrest record.
The organization states that a typical arrest can cost anywhere from $2,711 to $13,607 in resources to encompass booking and court fees, while civil citations would require approximately $350 in resources. They also state the re-offense rate would drop from 40% to 9% with civil citations.
"This approach allows participants to avoid a formal arrest record and the collateral consequences involved in the criminal justice system," said Paul Blackmon, pastor of First Baptist Church Ferry Pass.
Escambia County already has a juvenile civil citation program after Bowden Madden signed a memorandum on June 6, 2021, that expanded the citation program from 18 to more than 100 civil citation-eligible misdemeanor offenses, helping kids stay out of jail.
This benefit will now transition to adults committing certain misdemeanors, and Bowden Madden said the program may move circuit-wide to encompass Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.
"None of the (First Judicial Circuit) counties have adult civil citation program," she said. "I have spoken to the sheriffs in the other counties, (and) they're actually very excited. This is one of those programs that I think would really aid law enforcement, really aid the individuals and really help my office so that we can concentrate on those crimes that threaten your safety and your community's safety."
Bowden Madden says she hopes to have the adult civil citation program running in Escambia around the first week of September.