Target: Senator Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Florida
Goal: Stop prosecution of children as adults in Florida court system.
The number of children prosecuted in the Florida court system is alarmingly on the rise. The state’s “direct file” statute, which gives prosecutors the right to charge children as young as 14 as adults, carries severe consequences for both the child involved and society, as children who are tried as adults are more likely to be re-incarcerated and commit harsher crimes as adults.
Over 98 percent of the children present in Florida’s adults courts were placed there by prosecutors without judicial oversight. In other words, once a prosecutor decides that a child should be tried as an adult, a state judge cannot review or revise that decision. As a result, children populate adult prisons at a staggering rate in the state and many of them are forced to live with the lifelong consequences of an adult felony, as opposed to being granted access to the rehabilitative practices performed in Florida’s juvenile system.
The damaging effects of child incarceration are only heightened when youths are detained in adult prison systems. Currently, over 60 percent of children (ages 14 to 17) incarcerated in Florida’s prison system are there for nonviolent offenses. For example, in an investigation by Human Rights Watch, a 16-year-old was tried as an adult for stealing laptops from a classroom. A 17-year-old was also incarcerated in an adult prison for trespassing on a porch and taking a printer. Both offenses, at the adult level, carry a maximum sentence of five years.
Children who commit crimes should always be held accountable, however, prosecuting them as adults, especially for non-violent offenses, is counterproductive and extremely damaging to their mental and emotional development. Juvenile detention centers teach incarcerated children to make better choices in life and expose them to education, vocational training programs, counseling and, ultimately, guidance.
Sign the petition to urge Florida legislators to stop locking up children in adult prison systems and explore more helpful options for youths that commit nonviolent crimes.
Dear Senator Bill Montford,
There’s a heart-wrenching epidemic happening in Florida’s prison system: Children are being tried as adults and housed in adult prison facilities. This occurrence is a direct result of apathy by judicially inept prosecutors who don’t want to explore any other options for these children.
Every hearing involving a child as young as 10 and as old as 17 should take into account their characteristics, as well as their capacity for change and rehabilitation. Children are developmentally less mature than adults and more capable of improvement. Also, juvenile facilities are better equipped to handle law-breaking youths by instilling patterns of responsibility, providing care and guidance, and even offer counseling, probation, education and training—all of which are far better alternatives to simply locking these children away and forcing them to deal with the consequences of an adult felony conviction.
Florida legislators should unite and ban this practice immediately. Prosecuting children as adults is not only limiting for youths, but proves to be an excessive and disadvantageous answer to the issue. Please allow judges to make these critical final decisions in a child’s life during trial and stop prosecutors from inhumanely throwing children into adult jailhouses.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Geo Swan via Wikimedia Commons