ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – Despite the festive atmosphere at the Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, people were gathered for serious business. The group known as FAST, Faith and Action for Strength Together, wants young people accused of non-violent offenses, to be issued civil citations – and not sent to jail.
Johnny Watson’s 24-year-old son, was arrested for a misdemeanor when he was 12. It’s hard for him to find work. “Because of that, he’s been totally relegated to what he was simply asked for when he was looking for a job, a dishwasher,” Watson explained.
Most counties in the Tampa Bay area use civil citations, but Polk, Hardee, and to some extent, Hillsborough, do not. FAST members support bills to make civil citations the law statewide.
A criminal record can interfere with college, military service and employment. “All of us have made some mistakes that even rose to the level of a criminal offense, and nothing happened. The officer came by and said, ‘I’m gonna tell your momma, I’m gonna take you home, see your mother,’” Elder James Myles of the Bethel Baptist Community Church said.
Florida Department of Juvenile Justice statistics show civil citations keep minors out of the system, reduce costs and free up resources.
It also keeps young people from having criminal records. ”As long as things like this devastate the life of young people, we are really responsible for destroying much of our resources,” said Johnny Watson.