News 4 Jax
Florida lawmakers look to reform how kids are treated after committing crimes
By Matt Galka
TALLAHASSEE, Fla.- Florida tries more kids as adults than any other state in the country, and 98 percent of those cases are due to the state's Direct file statute, which basically gives prosecutors the ability to move a juvenile into adult court on a whim.
Lawmakers are now preaching reform and are trying to change the law.
If two kids commit the same crime in different parts of the state, one may go through the juvenile justice system and the other could be tried as an adult.
Rep. Katie Edwards is looking for uniformity.
I want to get every juvenile a first crack at the juvenile system so they get the programs that they need, the services, the support and make sure that were not diverting a juvenile who could be rehabilitated in the juvenile system, Edwards said.
Edwards is part of a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers looking to reform how kids are tried after they've committed crimes in the state. Her bill would require prosecutors to get a judge's approval before they can try a juvenile as an adult.
Of the more than 1,200 juveniles tried as adults in 2014 and 2015, a majority of them were for non-violent burglary crimes.
Circuit Judge Terrance Ketchel said the adult system doesn't help most juvenile offenders.
Juvenile courts have a lot more services, Ketchel said. The adult criminal courts, it's more about punishment.
Former state Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters said many of the teenagers tried as adults end up back in prison again because they weren't properly rehabilitated.
What we're doing is we are seeing kids who are criminally inclined not get the very help to keep them from recidivating, Walters said.
Non-partisan research group the James Madison Institute estimates that reform could save more than $12 million over 10 years, which could then be reinvested for more state juvenile services.
The bill still gives prosecutors the ability to direct file and transfer a kid into adult court for more heinous offenses a juvenile may be charged with, including murder, carjacking and sexual crimes.