No Place for ChildrenThe James Madison Institute recently released a new report that stated maintaining the status quo on the process of direct filing of juveniles in Florida could cost the Florida Department of Corrections $175 million over the next 10 years as more children enter its facilities.
Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at The James Madison Institute, appeared on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks” to discuss the report, “No Place for A Child: Direct File of Juveniles Comes at a High Cost; Time to Fix Statues,” that was written by researchers at the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University and The James Madison Institute.
“Direct file is the process by which a child age seventeen or under is transferred and charged as an adult in the correctional system in Florida,” said Nuzzo.
“In almost all other states, a judge is involved in that process,” he said. “If a prosecutor wants to charge a kid as an adult, they petition the court to review the charges, review the kid’s file and make a determination on charging the kid as an adult.”
He explained that Florida handles such cases differently.
“Florida is one of only three states that actually gives the sole discretion for charging a kid as an adult to the state attorney in that circuit,” said Nuzzo. “Without any oversight, without any judicial review, without any involvement at all of a judge or anyone else, the prosecutor is allowed to simply directly file the kid into the adult system and charge him as an adult.”
Since 2009, more than 12,000 children have been tried as adults in Florid – 98 percent of these children are direct filed in adult court by prosecutors with no hearing, due process, oversight or input from a judge. Florida currently has the highest number of adult transfers reported of any state in the nation.
The economic analysis revealed that although the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice would incur new costs, as juveniles previously filed into the adult court system would now be served in the juvenile system; over a 10-year period, the state budget would see a $12.6 million increase, presenting a reinvestment opportunity for the juvenile system to increase rehabilitative services.
“Although incarceration in juvenile facilities is more expensive on a per diem basis as rehabilitative and educational programming provided in the juvenile system has a cost, the use of the juvenile justice system saves money in the long run,” said Nuzzo. “This is not only because it is more effective at rehabilitating youth, but also because the lengths of incarceration in the adult system are significantly longer and we would argue, more detrimental to public safety. “
He added, “Our analysis doesn’t even take into account a change in the recidivism rates or the improved economic prospects for youth who do not have to carry around an adult criminal record.”
Conservative and liberal groups both support changes to the state’s criminal justice system.
“We’re working in a coalition with groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU and some conservative organizations that really have a heart for this type of reform,” said Nuzzo.”
The coalition is not recommending the elimination charging any kids as adults, because some crimes warrant it. The recommendation is to restore the role of a judge in determining that for non-violent offenses.
Nuzzo said, “For these non-violent offenses, we want to go back to the way Florida had it back in the ‘70s and ‘80s before this policy got expanded, and really restore the role of a judge in helping to serve as an objective arbiter for this.”