Will Florida Reform its Juvenile Justice System?
Criminal justice reform has been in the news lately, with the federal government passing landmark reforms designed to limit the amount of time someone spends in incarceration. Other states have also begun looking into reform their criminal justice systems, which comes after decades of “tough on crime” rhetoric.
Florida has not been left out of this sea change. There has been growing bipartisan support in this state for bringing modest changes to Florida’s juvenile justice system. According to the Miami Herald, Florida leads the country in charging minors as adults, which can lead to lengthy prison sentences. In fact, over the past decade, over 15,000 juveniles have been charged as adults.
A Judicial Check on Overcharging?
Under consideration in the state Legislature is a law that will require judges to determine whether a minor should be charged as an adult. If the judge doesn’t think so, then the child’s case will return to the juvenile justice system. In other words, prosecutors will no longer have unfettered discretion as to whether to charge a minor as an adult; a judge now has to agree.
The differences between juvenile and adult justice are marked. If charged as a juvenile, then the focus will be on rehabilitating the minor so that he or she does not reoffend. The minor’s record will be sealed, which means a minor can state that he doesn’t have a criminal history when he applies for a job, apartment, or college admissions.
As an adult, conversely, the focus of the justice system is on punishment, and lengthy prison sentences are not unusual. Convicted adults their civil rights if convicted of a felony, such as their right to vote or serve on a jury. Adults’ criminal records also follow them around unless they obtain a pardon from the Governor or have their record expunged.
Other Chronic Problems with Juvenile Justice
Charging minors as adults is not the only problem with the state’s juvenile justice system. As explained by the Orlando Sentinel, Florida’s juvenile justice facilities are rife with allegations of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of staff, some of whom also deny juveniles necessary medical care. Some staff members even bribed juveniles to fight each other for the entertainment of the rest of the staff.
The allegations of widespread abuse prompted some changes last year, such as a new policy of conducting background checks before hiring staff for juvenile facilities. But the response has been underwhelming, and it is not clear if the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice has really made any reforms.
Have You Been Accused of a Crime?
If you or a loved one has been picked up by the police, you need an aggressive attorney to stand beside you. At Bundza & Rodriguez, our Daytona Beach criminal defense lawyers have helped countless people navigate the criminal courts.
We can meet with you to discuss your case and identify the strongest defenses you have to the charges you face. For more information, please call us at 386-252-5170 or send us an online message. Our consultations are free.