Yesterday, Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Plantation), Rep. Kathleen Peters (R-St. Petersburg) and Rep. Bobby Powell (D-Riviera Beach) continued a bipartisan push for practical policy reforms to Florida’s Juvenile Justice structure with their proposal to amend how children in Florida are moved into the adult criminal justice system.

Under current policy, individual state attorneys are able to directly file adult charges for children as young as 15 in some cases, regardless of the severity of the crime alleged. Consequently, recidivism rates for non-violent offenders are more than 30 percent higher for children sent into the adult system.

Children are directly filed at a higher rate in Florida than anywhere else in the U.S., largely due to the unchecked authority of state attorneys. The prospect of adult charges is often used as leverage for extracting pleas from children, who then have to carry criminal records with them throughout their life.

Florida has made great progress over the past two sessions in expanding the use of civil citations for juveniles, and in 2016 will hopefully advance additional sensible solutions to the issues presented by many concerned stakeholders. The James Madison Institute (JMI) has engaged in this reform effort over the past two years because we see the economic cost, as well as the human cost involved if certain proposed reforms are not enacted.

“This policy reform is a long time coming, and something that is truly needed to maintain proper checks and balances in the criminal justice system,” said Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy with JMI. “While some may make the incorrect claim that any reform seeks to eliminate charging youths as adults, the fact is that this policy proposal is more of a precision surgical approach, establishing review by a judge for a small grouping of non-violent crimes before a child is charged as an adult.

Nuzzo continued, We also recognize the economic component to this proposal. Children sent into the adult system for non-violent crimes are far more likely to learn to be better criminals and reoffend, ultimately costing Florida taxpayers much greater in incarceration expenses and social service costs. We are seeking a long-term solution for Florida that promotes safe and effective justice. We commend Representatives Edwards, Peters, and Powell for coming together to promote sound, bipartisan reform.”

The Florida Times-Union ran Nuzzo's column on this topic as its Lead Letter during the 2015 Legislative Session. Read more here.