Florida Times-Union
“Guest Column: Our treatment of juveniles is overly harsh and backward”
By Matt Shirk, Tania Galloni, Sal Nuzzo
October 21, 2015Note to readers: To read what State Attorney Angela Corey has written on these subjects, previously published on this page, go to the Opinion Page Blog, jacksonville.com/opinion.Members of a left-right coalition advocating for the reform of Florida’s direct file statute, which allows prosecutors to transfer youth to the adult justice system with no oversight by a judge, rebut claims by State Attorney Angela Corey’s office in recent news reports.CLAIM: The juvenile system is not equipped to deal with children charged with serious crimes.FACT: Research shows that children are uniquely capable of rehabilitation through services in the juvenile system.Sending a child to the adult system, on the other hand, increases the likelihood the youth will re-offend in the future with more serious crimes.The juvenile system is the only system equipped to rehabilitate young people and thereby improve public safety.CLAIM: Prosecutors direct file youth to adult court only for the most serious crimes.FACT: Most Florida children tried as adults are charged with non-violent offenses.Countless others face transfer to the adult system if they do not accept plea deals that send them to harsh commitment programs (“direct commitment”) before they have even had the chance to see the evidence against them.Duval County leads the state in direct commitments with nearly 1,500 over five years, accounting for more than 28 percent of all direct commitments in the state.CLAIM: There are more kids committing more violent crimes at a younger age than ever before.FACT: Department of Juvenile Justice data show that in the last five years, Corey’s jurisdiction has seen a steep decline in juvenile crime – including violent crime – which is consistent with statewide and national trends.The proportion of younger kids arrested for such offenses has largely remained constant.CLAIM: Maximum risk programs in the juvenile system can hold a child for only 18 to 36 months.FACT: The purpose of the juvenile system is both to hold children accountable and to rehabilitate them.The law therefore authorizes the commitment of juveniles until they have been rehabilitated (up until age 21).A child is never released without approval of the court.CLAIM: The proposed bipartisan reform, House Bill 129 and Senate Bill 314, hamstrings prosecutors charging children with the most serious crimes.FACT: Under the proposed reforms, prosecutors would still be able to transfer children’s cases to adult court through indictment, direct file or a judicial waiver hearing.CLAIM: There is no point to the bill since judges in adult court can still give out juvenile punishments if appropriate.FACT: The reality is that as a result of the plea bargaining process, judges usually do not decide the punishment.Current law also requires that adult sentences be imposed on children who were transferred to adult court via indictment or mandatory direct file.CLAIM: No prosecutor would support reform.FACT: Several Florida prosecutors have publicly recognized the need for reform.Earlier this year, former Florida prosecutor Shay Bilchik published a letter to the editor in The Florida Times-Union in support of reform, recognizing that granting prosecutors sole power over the decision to try children as adults doesn’t serve “the interests of justice, the accused or public safety.”¦ Matt Shirk is Public Defender for the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Jacksonville.¦ Tania Galloni is managing attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Miami.¦ Sal Nuzzo is vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee.Article: http://m.jacksonville.com/business/columnists/2015-10-21/story/guest-column-our-treatment-juveniles-overly-harsh-and-backward#article=68431FD8CCE2F4A00734D2F8E6AC78C5CD12