George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

Pensacola News Journal — Ed⁠i⁠⁠t⁠or⁠i⁠al: I⁠t⁠’s good ⁠t⁠o see changes ⁠i⁠n our pol⁠i⁠cy on ⁠i⁠ncarcera⁠t⁠⁠i⁠on

By: The James Madison Institute / 2015

Pensacola News Journal
“Editorial: It’s good to see changes in our policy on incarceration”
By Pensacola News Journal Editorial Board
October 11, 2015The way we jail and imprison law breakers took center stage last week, giving us hope that positive change is on the horizon.On Tuesday, we were visited by an impressive group pushing to reduce the number of juveniles who are tried as adults. Our guests included the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Florida Institute of Government at Florida State University and The James Madison Institute, a Tallahassee-based think tank. They brought with them an armful of data that convinces us we need to rethink the practice of trying juveniles as adults. They pointed out Florida sends more children, especially minorities, to adult court than any other state. Equally troubling was the revelation that state attorneys have broad power in making the call to transfer the case in adult court.“Prosecutors have sole discretion on which children go to adult court,” a portion of their reads. “98% of the more than 100,000 children tried in Florida’s adult courts in the last 5 years were transferred there WITHOUT the benefit of a hearing before a judge.”Tonia Galloni, managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Miami, said prosecutors in Escambia County are especially inclined to try juveniles as adults. “In 2013-14, Escambia County prosecutors transferred 70 children to adult court,” she said. “This is the same number of children that were ‘direct filed’ in Orange County, with a youth population almost five times the size.” While the statewide trend to do so is declining, the opposite is happening in Escambia, she pointed out.Sal Nuzzo with the conservative-minded James Madison Institute said those numbers prove the state’s inconsistent with how it handles young defendants. He called it “justice by geography.” We believe there should be a statewide standard that allows judges into the decision rather than the luck of the draw based on where the crime is committed.The groups are seeking a bill in the state Legislature to “restore the role of judges to decide whether a child should be tried as an adult.”A similar bill passed committees this year, but were not considered by the House and Senate before the session ended early because of a spat between the chambers. We hope there is support by the Northwest Florida delegation in 2016. It’s unfair that the same people who prosecute a case get to decide where it’s adjudicated.Also on Tuesday, we published a story by Santa Rosa County reporter Kaycee Lagarde that announced Sheriff Wendell Hall could open a work-release center in East Milton. Relax, folks. It’s for low-risk inmates who could continue to work days as they serve their sentence at night. On Thursday, commissioners gave the OK to proceed. By proposing the center, Hall is taking a common-sense approach to law breakers by allowing them to support themselves and their families.“If you incarcerate them, you lock them up, then they lose their job,” Hall said. “They can’t work, they can’t contribute to the problem that’s causing them to be there in the first place, a lot of times, which is not paying child support – because they have no income.”Not only will it help keep families together, the estimated two dozen inmates that could be housed in the center will ease overcrowding at the county jail.But, there is more prison-related news that gives us hope.California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that will give thousands of young adult offenders the chance to earn parole.“California’s new law acknowledges that young adults who have done wrong are still developing in ways that makes a real turnaround possible,” Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, said in a news release in reaction to Brown’s decision to sign the bill. “This law gives imprisoned young offenders hope and the motivation to work hard toward parole.”Conservatives should embrace these examples of reasonable options to handle lawbreakers – yes, even the one is from the Left Coast – rather than continuing to spend billions on prisons and continuing to ruin lives and break up families.Want to know more?For more information on juvenile justice, visit