Faith-based activists call on reduction of juvenile arrest rates

04/07/14 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: juveniles, law enforcement, school to prison pipeline, marijuana, FAST, Nehemia

Juvenile arrest rates are the focus of a faith-based group in St. Pete meeting Monday night. The group FAST, which stands for Faith and Action for Strength Together is co-chaired by Reverend Willie McClendon. He says the group is asking elected officials to embrace a statewide program that allows police officers to issue civil citations to juveniles for non-violent offenses, like marijuana possession.

McClendon expects about 3,000 interfaith activists at the rally in Tropicana Field Monday night at 7. The Nehemiah action in Tampa Tuesday will be at Mount Calvary Seventh Day Adventist Church in Southeast Tampa at 6:30. The actions are part of a statewide effort including more than 10,000 citizens. Other areas of focus are affordable housing and jobs.

"Over the last 5 years there was 4,839 children arrested between the ages of 5 and 10. Very few of these kids have violent, serious infractions against the law. What happens is these kids even when they get to their 30's and 40's can't get jobs because it stays on their records and they treat them as record criminals. The other thing is it prevents them from getting scholarships or even getting into the military and definitely we'll feel the pinch in the long run because they can't get jobs and may become hardened criminals. This is a big issue and one of those things that we need to come up with some diversionary program if that's a civil citation or one of the things that the state has pushed to try to prevent this from happening to our youth in the long run."

Pastor McClendon you said something that was pretty shocking to me, in the statistics that you just gave you said children between the ages of 5 and 10, what type of offense would a 5 year old, a baby to most of us, have to do to warrant them being arrested?

"This is the problem, one that we need to confront. Some of the kids are being arrested for throwing spit balls. We had one kid that was a special needs kid got arrested for hugging another young opposite sex, another child. It's just stuff that people used to deal with differently. Now they call the police and have them arrested."

Tell me what's going to happen tonight? Who are some of the officials that you all are going to be addressing and what is your hope for the evening?

"Some of the officials, hopefully we're going to have the state attorney here from Pinellas County. McCabe and (). Like I say, Pinellas County has really been leading the way in coming up with diversionary programs even though they're not using civil citations but any program that keeps those kids from getting in the system is what we want. We hope to have over 3,000 people there tonight asking them to do just that. We've also talked to the Superintendent, we've had him at another meeting earlier, superintendent of our schools trying to get our kids up to grade, reading at grade level."

How much success do you expect to have tonight?

"Pinellas county residents we're doing fairly well with them but what we're trying to do is get the sheriff and the state attorney to support us in a statewide issue, trying to get () and what have you to take it on the same way. Come up with some diversionary program, stop arresting our kids. A lot of times people will tell me that those records are sealed only to find out when they apply for a job that they're not sealed."

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