George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

Orlando Sen⁠t⁠⁠i⁠nel — Keep mos⁠t⁠ you⁠t⁠hful suspec⁠t⁠s ⁠i⁠n juven⁠i⁠le no⁠t⁠ adul⁠t⁠ cour⁠t⁠: Ed⁠i⁠⁠t⁠or⁠i⁠al

By: The James Madison Institute / 2015

Orlando Sentinel
“Keep most youthful suspects in juvenile not adult court: Editorial”
October 4, 2015

Puishment is the last and the least effective instrument in the hands of the legislator for the prevention of crime.”So declared John Ruskin.Evidently, the Florida Legislature is no fan of the influential British social thinker. This shows particularly in the way Florida prefers to punish offenders who can’t catch an R-rated flick without an accompanying adult.Specifically, Florida leads the nation in shifting young suspects to the adult court system and in locking up kids in adult hellholes.And that doesn’t make sense — for the kids, for taxpayers, or for public safety.Blame Florida’s misguided record on what’s called “direct file.” It affords prosecutors unbridled discretion to transfer 16 – and 17-year-olds charged with felonies to adult court. They also can charge as adults 14- and 15-year-olds who commit certain felonies.Not that prosecutors are herding a stampede of ax murderers into the adult roundup. Better than 60 percent of the more than 12,000 juvenile suspects moved to the Florida adult court system in the past five years allegedly committed nonviolent felonies. Only 2.7 percent faced murder indictments.Yet, prosecutors armed with that unfettered power largely bypass “judicial waiver” — a hearing where a judge settles the juvenile or adult court question. Not only does direct file bypass an impartial arbiter for the child’s best interests, it plunges youngsters into an adult system that unlike the juvenile court favors punishment over rehabilitation.”Florida should reverse course and adopt an approach grounded more firmly in fact and reason,” noted a 2014 Human Rights Watch report on direct file.A left-right coalition that ranges from the Southern Poverty Law Center to the James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee-based free-market think tank, is advocating to do just that.The report suggests Florida dump direct file and embrace the fairer alternative of judges ruling on juvenile-to-adult transfers “with a strong presumption that all children 17 and under should remain in the juvenile system.”Regrettably, the tide changed in 1994 with the debut of Florida’s direct file law, born in the early ’90s hysteria fomented by social scientists who warned of violent, uncontrollable youth dubbed “superpredators” who would ravage the land. Nostradamus the scientists were not. Direct file belongs in the ’90s dustbin with that epic fail of a prophecy.As it stands, Florida is among only 14 states and the District of Columbia that sanction direct file, and one of a quartet that ban judicial review of prosecutorial direct file cases. Not that Florida should bask in its exclusivity.Under direct file, children are often pressured to take plea deals and wind up in adult incarceration where they’re robbed of age-appropriate programs and vulnerable to sexual abuse and inmate-on-inmate violence. And when they get out, they are 34 percent more likely to wind up back in jail.Bad enough. Worse, is the lack of consistency. Transfer rates vary widely from county to county. Juvenile suspects’ lives can hang on the whims of prosecutors or the prevailing political winds.Or skin color. Though 27.2 percent of children busted for crime are black, 51.4 percent of young transferred to adult court are black.Bills recently filed by Rep. Katie Edwards, a Broward Democrat, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Pinellas Republican, and a Senate companion filed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami-Dade Republican, would reduce the number of children tried as adults.Similar measures gained traction this past session with overwhelming votes in House and Senate subcommittees, but none crossed the finish line. Lawmakers can’t allow a repeat performance in the upcoming legislative session. It’s a blatant injustice for youngsters to be branded for life as felons by such a capricious system that ignores the inherent emotional differences between children and adults.It’s time to return more youthful offenders to the confines of juvenile court — where almost all of them belong.Article: