LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — Children are arrested at school in Lake County more frequently than any other county in Central Florida and almost more than any other county in the state, according to data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.
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Teenagers like Shauna Simon’s 13-year-old nephew was arrested for allegedly stealing a necklace from another student at Mount Dora Middle School.
It is his third time in trouble, but Simon said it was his first time being placed on an ankle monitor. She told Channel 9 that the punishment did not fit the alleged crime.
“It’s not like when me and you and my parents went to school, where you get in fights at school and get suspended and you go home for a few days or sit in school suspension,” Simon said. “Now they are taking it to the courts and criminalizing these young kids before they ever can be successful.”
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Simon is fighting the charges of robbery but is worried about the impact the arrest will have long-term.
The family is not alone.
“We don’t want to arrest these kids because we know the impact it is going to have long-term. A lot of these occasions, especially the felonies -- our hands are tied,” Lake County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Fred Jones said.
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According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Lake County has the second highest number of arrests in the schools for sixth to 12th grade, with 378 arrests, second only to DeSoto County. Compare that to Orange County, which has more than four times the number of students but had only 195 arrests.
Channel 9′s Shannon Butler spoke with Lake County Lt. Tim O’Brien, who is in charge of the county’s school resource officers. He said he doesn’t think the state numbers are accurate. In fact, he thinks the arrests are on par with other counties,
“More juveniles are being arrested, unfortunately,” he said. “As a whole? Yes, not just here.”
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When asked if Lake County is overzealous in making arrests, O’Brien said, “I don’t think we are overzealous. We try to use the avenue to fit the child at the time depending on what crime they are being charged with.”
“There are counties that have other diversion programs that we don’t have either,” Jones said.
The Sheriff’s Office used the works in lieu of arrest program, also known as WILA. The citation program allows first-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders to work off the offense. Some counties allow youth offenders to attend it three times. Lake County only allows them to attend it once.
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O’Brien said they would like teen court to be used more, and they would like their own juvenile assessment center.
Right now, children offenders are transported to Ocala.
Deputies will meet with the state attorney next week to ask for a second chance under that WILA program.
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