ORLANDO, Fla. - An Orange-Osceola County public defender is calling for police to stop arresting young children on minor offenses.
Public Defender Robert Wesley said the 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola counties, arrests more children between the ages of 5 and 10 than Florida's other 19 judicial circuits.
Wesley and community leaders held a news conference at the Florida A&M University College of Law on Beggs Avenue in downtown Orlando Wednesday.
Wesley said police should be using civil citations and other noncriminal methods to deal with disruptive children and children from 5 to 10 years old who commit nonviolent and minor offenses.
He believes part of the problem is a willingness to handcuff children at schools who get out of line.
"Right now, central Florida tops the list of statewide arrests of 5- to 10-year-olds," said Barrett.
Going into the new school year, Wesley, flanked by other community leaders, said it's time to lose the handcuffs.
"A lot of people believe that there are more arrests in the summertime then there are during the rest of the year," Wesley said. "This is no longer true. With in-school arrests, it means that summertime is a time of respite. There are fewer arrests."
"There are few things that are more disturbing than the notion of a 5-year-old being taken away in handcuffs," said Florida A&M Law School dean LeRoy Pernell.
Pernell said 67 percent of all juvenile arrests in the area are for non-serious offenses.
He added there is an element of race. While black children make up 25 percent of the youth population, they account for 55 percent of juvenile arrests, according to Channel 9's Steve Barrett.
Another statistic points to the benefits of civil citations instead of handcuffed arrests.
"It is remarkable that the recidivism rate for civil citation is 5 percent, compared to 41 percent when a child is arrested," said Deirdre MacNab, of the League of Women Voters.