Broward County commissioners have approved a new program that aims to keep adults accused of non-violent misdemeanor crimes out of jail by giving them civil citations and coursework instead.
Larry Barszewski, a Sun Sentinel reporter who has been covering plans for the program, said the county will save taxpayer dollars by issuing civil citations to people instead of locking them up.
“One of the things they’ve been looking at in particular is people being held in jail on minor offenses where the bail is less than $500,” Barszewski said. “It’s costing the county $140-$150 a day to house those inmates.”
A few cities within Broward County already use similar methods to keep people out of jail, like Lauderhill, Coral Springs and Hallandale Beach. Miami-Dade has had a similar ordinance on the books since 2010. Leon and Pinellas counties have also implemented civil citation programs in the last few years.
The citations won’t be a ‘get out of jail free’ card for people accused of crimes like petty theft, possession of alcohol under age, loitering or disorderly conduct.
“You’re going to have to pay a program fee, you’re going to have to perform community service hours, and it seems like many times there’s going to be some type of educational course required,” Barszewski said.
It will be up to the discretion of officers with the Broward County Sheriff's office or municipal police forces to decide on a case-by-case basis who should be issued a citation in lieu of an arrest.
Broward County already has a similar process in place for adults found with less than 20 grams of marijuana. That program, along with a juvenile program which began in 2012, gave the county a framework for the newly expanded citation program.
County Commissioners Dale Holness and Steve Geller sponsored the regulations for the program. It was approved unanimously in a 9-0 vote.
The civil citation program is expected to take a few months to implement. Once it is fully functional, cities in Broward County will have the option to adopt the program or opt out.