Florida Struggles to Craft Juvenile Sentencing Policy

By: Margie Menzel News Service of Florida | Posted: October 16, 2013 3:55 AM



As state legislators have tried and failed to craft a juvenile-sentencing law that conforms to landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings, a national advocacy group is calling Florida a "clear outlier" among states for its hard-line approach to trying juveniles as adults.

The Washington-based Campaign for Youth Justice, which opposes incarcerating youths under 18 as adults, says Florida transfers more teens to adult criminal court than any other state.

"These tough-on-crime laws are ineffective at keeping kids from reoffending," said the group's policy director, Carmen Daugherty. "Florida needs to take additional steps to reform its juvenile justice system."

Daugherty said youths who are incarcerated in the adult criminal-justice system are 34 percent more likely to commit other crimes after release.

But while the advocacy group praised Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters, who has championed diversion programs for youth offenders, Walters took issue with their charge that the state is out of step. She said Florida "is not an outlier."

"We're chipping away,'' Walters said. "We've seen almost a quarter-reduction in arrests. We're seeing fewer and fewer kids get direct-filed (as adults), fewer and fewer kids getting sent away, fewer and fewer kids landing in the deep end (of the juvenile justice system)."

According to DJJ figures, Florida's commitment of low- and moderate-risk youth has decreased by 62 percent during Walters' two-and-a-half-year tenure at the agency.

The group's report comes as lawmakers prepare to take up juvenile sentencing proposals during the spring legislative session -- including the use of risk-assessment tools and diversion programs to keep all but the worst offenders out of the deep end of the juvenile justice system, where the likelihood of recidivism is greatest.

Lawmakers also are gearing up for yet another try at sentencing juveniles under recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that restrict the use of life sentences.

Three years ago, in Graham v. Florida, the high court banned life sentences for juveniles convicted of nonhomicide crimes. And last year, in Miller v. Alabama, the high court found that juveniles convicted of murder can still face life sentences, but the judges must weigh criteria such as the offenders' maturity and the nature of the crimes before imposing that sentence.

Since the Graham decision in 2010, the Legislature has taken up bills that would have allowed life sentences for juveniles with the possibility of release if they show signs of rehabilitation. So far, none has passed.

And given the vacuum, the justices of the Florida Supreme Court last month suggested that they could impose a review system for juvenile sentences, when they heard cases involving 70-year and 90-year terms.

"The legislators in all the states like to point their fingers at the judiciary and say they're being proactive," said state Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, who has both law enforcement and prosecutorial experience. "But how can we blame them if we're not willing to step up to the plate and pass a bill and have it signed into law?"

"We of the Legislature have a duty to provide clarity to the courts," said state Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican and former prosecutor. "I understand why the Florida Supreme Court is discussing how to deal with this issue in the recent cases that they heard. I understand their frustration, and I look forward to participating with my colleagues this session in providing some clear guidance to the courts going forward."

Bradley, whose 2013 proposal (SB 1350) died on the last day of session, said he hasn't decided whether to try again next year.

Both he and Kerner make a sharp distinction between juveniles convicted of homicide and nonhomicide crimes.

"My main concern continues to be whenever you have a murder victim, that that family not be required to relive that heinous act by having to come back and have hearings after hearings in the future, once the trial has resolved and the murderer is sentenced," Bradley said.

He added that he's more flexible in the cases of defendants who did not commit murder.

In the House, Kerner said, "Everybody seems to be at the table."

He said he's told House Criminal Justice Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Vice Chairman Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, that a bipartisan solution to juvenile sentencing is one of his top priorities.

"No one wants to be soft on crime," Kerner said. "But we also don't want to miss out on an opportunity to have meaningful participation and meaningful rehabilitation of the juveniles in our society who have done wrong. And we need to craft a bill that finds that balance."


Comments (1)

flexible laws
3:44PM OCT 16TH 2013
They don't really want to pass any laws that are binding upon them and their friends. Look at the way they handle all laws. Every time they have a high profile child involved crime they write a new law and name the law after the deceased child. Megans' law; The Jimmy 'rice Law, Jessica's law; The amber alert; The Adam Walsh law and on and on.

But they don't really enforce any of them and especially if the offender is a really close friend of the powerful.

In 2012 after the Penn State (Sandusky Sex Abuse Scandal) It was only a scandal because because it finally leaked to the public so fast and furious and they could no longer continue to cover it up so they were forced to do something.

So, monkey see monkey do the State of Florida passed another law making it mandatory that anyone who is aware of child abuse or child sex abuse will be guilty of a crime for failing to report.

Less than six months after this law was enacted a family reported directly to Lake County Florida sheriff Gary Borders that there child was being sexually abused by an older step-child in the family. If they had failed to report these crimes they could have been charged under the new law. What did Sheriff Borders do? NOT ONE THING. He had his Detectives talk to the State Attorney and they conspired to make it go away.

When the Perriwinkle child was recently abducted in Jacksonville by the career sex offender that should never have seen the light of day they started talking about making another new law named for her.

These so called law makers make a mockery out of the criminal justice system by continually and repeatedly passing laws after laws after laws that those who are charged by the constitution of enforcing those laws turn they heads too every day. Even when those laws are grossly broken by their friends.

Would a normal person not believe that if and when FIVE little boys between the ages of 12-15 report to their school administrator that they have been brutally raped by an older student using a foreign object into their body cavities over a period of time and that school administrator calls the local sheriff and reports these crimes - would a prudent person not believe this rapist (who was immediately identified) should and would have been immediately arrested? Well he was not! In fact he was not arrested until new house parents got breaking news that some of the victims had attempted suicide because nothing had been done for them.

Then all of a sudden everyone finds out that the sheriff has been running this boys ranch for over 20 years. The grapevine says a bunch of rapes have happen there over the years and no one has ever been charged.

They the people find a flyer with the rapist and the sheriff's pictured right on the front at the same time the rapes started to occur.

The sheriff and his friends in the JUST US system faked up an arrest, prosecution and probation sentencing of the rapist but other court documents prove he was never on probation and was in fact out committing other acts of violence on other persons at the time.

Google The Green Isle Boys Ranch, Sheriff Gary Borders. Read the 44 page summary and the 77 page summary as well.

Then tell your law makers we do not need another stupid law named for yet another innocent victim. We have more than enough laws. We need to start policing our criminals within the system who protect the friends and fail to enforce the laws we already have.

At the very least Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders committed OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE for failing to immediately arrest his little friend the Green Isle Rapist. Many people believe a true honest investigation would disclose many more crimes of a heinous nature as well.

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