Pinellas, Hillsborough lead state in children charged

Other statistics show that a disproportionately large number of African-Americans come in contact with the juvenile justice system.


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 17, 2000

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties lead the state in cases of children 11 and younger being charged with crimes.

Meanwhile, statewide, there is a stark difference among arrests of children by race -- one that gets sharper as the children get younger.

Those conclusions come from a St. Petersburg Times analysis of data provided by the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

It's not unexpected that Pinellas and Hillsborough would rank high on the list, because each county is home to more than 100,000 school-age children. Hillsborough County has the third-highest number of schoolchildren in the state, and Pinellas has the seventh-highest number, according to 1998 state Department of Education figures.

[Click here for chart]

Perhaps more surprising is that they rank at the very top, even higher than Miami-Dade County, which has more schoolchildren than Pinellas and Hillsborough combined. It ranked sixth.

The reasons are not entirely clear. But in Hillsborough, officials are enforcing a 1997 law requiring school districts to adopt "zero tolerance" policies and report many offenses to police, whether they want to or not, said Theda James, bureau chief in the Hillsborough Public Defender's juvenile division.

"That results in a lot of first-time offenders being referred (to the state attorney) right out of the school system for cases that used to be handled administratively," James said.

Pasco County ranked 25th on the list of under-12 cases, followed by Citrus and Hernando counties, which were 34th and 36th respectively.

As for race, it's well-established that a disproportionately large number of African-Americans come in contact with the juvenile justice system. The new data show this trend is even stronger for younger offenders in Florida.

The data show 40.5 percent of juveniles 12 and older charged with crimes are African-American. But for children under 12, the percentage jumps to 55 percent African-American.

And for youths in detention centers, the juvenile version of jails, 57.2 percent were African-American.

This is in spite of the fact that roughly 21 percent of school-age children are African-American, according to state Department of Education figures.

The data also show:

Roughly 1 in 4 of the juveniles charged with battery on a school official are under 12.

Two of the four most common crimes for 11-and-under offenders were violent ones -- assaults and batteries, and aggravated assaults and batteries.

Most of the data in this story is for a 20-month period that ended Oct. 31. However, the detention data is for 1999, and the Department of Education data is for 1998.





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