TALLAHASSEE | State Attorney Angela Corey said Wednesday she draws a line on gun crimes when it comes to her office’s decisions to charge juveniles as adults.
The state attorney also said she’d like to see a class taught in elementary schools on the consequences of crime to teach children they are accountable for their actions.Corey spoke openly and candidly about the issue of charging juveniles as adults during a debate with policy analyst Vikrant P. Reddy of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime organizations.The debate was sponsored by the James Madison Institute and Florida State University’s Project on Accountable Justice and touched on a wide range of issues in juvenile justice.Reddy’s groups are conservative organizations, but he said Wednesday that incarceration of juveniles is more costly and less effective than robust diversion programs.Corey said cost evaluations also have to include the cost of when individuals re-offend. She also said that children have changed over the years and that now some children don’t respect their parents, judges or law enforcement.“Some of these kids … are bigger than any person in this room and some of them are meaner than anybody you’ve ever come across,” she said.Reddy said size doesn’t make a juvenile an adult.“There are juveniles who are 6-2, 300 pounds, but that doesn’t make them an adult,” he said. “What makes them an adult is their brain.”He said science is clear that juvenile brains are different from adult brains, with juveniles having poor impulse control and responding poorly to negative incentives.Corey rejected the notion that juveniles are different from adults when they have committed certain crimes. She said the crimes are “adult crimes,” particularly those that are violent or involve a gun. Corey said those crimes have nothing to do with impulse control and everything to do with plotting and planning.She said she’s drawn a line on gun crimes because they are “so vicious and so violent and do take a lot of thought.”Corey has come under fire by some in the Jacksonville area who want her office to put fewer juveniles through the adult court system and to divert more juveniles to programs. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, Corey’s office charged 126 juveniles as adults, down from 202 in the 2009-10 fiscal year.Corey said Wednesday her office diverted 41 percent of juvenile arrests last year. But Corey said she stands by all of the instances her office has charged a juvenile as an adult and that some individuals have to be incarcerated for long periods of time.“Heavy-handed incarcerations and lock-ups have proven to be counterproductive,” Reddy said.Reddy said the incarceration method of dealing with offenders isn’t working because of the high recidivism rates seen nationally. Incarcerating 14-year-olds, he said, contributes to creating hardened criminals who will eventually be released from prison.“They will come out some day, they will live next door to you and me,” Reddy said.The debaters were also asked about the disproportionate numbers of black males in the juvenile justice system.Corey said she doesn’t see any disproportionality as it relates to who is committing crime.“The people who are getting arrested are the people who are committing crimes, and it’s that simple,” she said. She said law enforcement officers are not arresting black youths for crimes that they are letting white youths get away with.Reddy said the issues of race, gender and socioeconomics distract from the more needed discussion around solutions.Corey and Reddy also discussed some of Florida’s juvenile justice laws. Corey said there isn’t any reason to tamper with laws that allow prosecutors to charge juveniles as adults. She said judges can still give offenders juvenile punishments.Reddy said he would like to see the state institute some sort of judicial review when a prosecutor decides to charge a juvenile as an adult.