Colin Warren-HicksPensacola News Journal
Original Post Link: https://www.pnj.com/story/news/local/pensacola/2021/11/16/just-pensacola-wants-civil-citation-program-keep-adults-out-jail/8626089002/
A Pensacola activist group that successfully lobbied for changes in the Escambia County criminal justice system earlier this year is continuing to flex its growing political muscle.
JUST Pensacola is comprised of members from about 16 local church congregations who regularly meet to discuss community concerns, how to advocate for change and how best to make Pensacola a more "just" city.
Earlier this year, the group successfully lobbied local law enforcement to widen the scope of Escambia County's juvenile civil citation program. Now, it has launched a new advocacy campaign to convince law enforcement to begin issuing civil citations to adults, as opposed to arrests.
"Our goal is, as it was with the juveniles or minor children, we want to divert people out of the system," said Paul Blackmon, a JUST Pensacola member and pastor at First Baptist Church of Ferry Pass.
Juveniles in Escambia County who commit less severe crimes can be issued civil citations to avoid criminal charges and an arrest, but a civil citation program currently does not exist in the county for adults who commit similar nonviolent crimes.
"We are seeking citations for things like driving with a suspended license, instead of people getting arrested and going to jail," Blackmon said. "It is a tremendous financial impact on the entire criminal justice system when we arrest and prosecute these nonviolent offenses.
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"No one wins," he continued. "You have a lot of nonviolent crimes where you have people who are being arrested, and, of course, depending on their financial status, if they are middle class or above, they are able to bond out, but if they are middle class or below, they might not be able to bond out. Well, that means they have lost time on their job, which means that they probably lose their job, which has a financial impact on the whole family."
Blackmon said JUST Pensacola already has been in communication with law enforcement leaders in Escambia County about an adult civil citation program for nonviolent offenses and has received positive feedback about the possibility.
Escambia County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Amber Southard said Monday that Sheriff Chip Simmons was "contemplating whether or not to add the program."
Pensacola Police Department spokesman Officer Mike Wood said the PPD has participated in the juvenile civil citation program for many years and "if the adult version does come to fruition, then we will participate."
State Attorney Ginger Bowden Madden told the News Journal that she is open to the possibility of such a program, though it's not yet clear how the program would operate.
"Because we don't have an adult civil citation program in place, I don't know what it will look like. I am not opposed to it. If everyone is on board, I certainly would participate," Bowden Madden said. "As far as creating the program myself — saying that I'm going to do this — that is not something on my immediate list of things to do right now."
She added that another outstanding question is which agency would oversee an adult civil citation program — for example, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice oversees the juvenile version of the program — and how it would be managed.
JUST Pensacola will host a Zoom meeting Dec. 6 to start addressing some of those questions. Meeting participants can voice their opinions on what a future program might look like and can join a research team to further investigate the issue.
Anyone interested in joining the conversation can register to attend the meeting by filling out a short form at bit.ly/3qJX3aO.
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at email@example.com or 850-435-8680.