Each year, thousands of teens move through Florida’s juvenile criminal justice system. However, questions continue to mount about whether the justice system is failing Florida’s young people. A recent story from ABC News has highlighted many of the problems with juvenile systems around the country, including in Florida.
Basics of Juvenile Justice
At the center of the juvenile criminal justice system is the belief that minors are capable of rehabilitation. Although the adult justice system is oriented around punishment, the juvenile system focuses on reforming delinquent behaviors. As part of this system, juveniles are kept separate from the adult criminal population, and many offenders enter diversion programs that keep them out of jail. While on probation, the child and his or her family work on action plans for the child.
Juvenile records are also sealed so that offenders will not have their youthful errors following them around for years later. As a result, juvenile offenders don’t need to disclose their criminal history when applying for a job or an apartment.
However, Florida constantly undermines this juvenile justice system.
Trying Juveniles as Adults
As part of the “tough on crime” rhetoric that has been ascendant for the past 40 years, Florida passed a law that allows juveniles to be tried as adults in certain situations. The theory underpinning this law is that juveniles should “serve adult time for adult crimes” like homicide.
Lionel Tate is one juvenile charged under this law. Tate was 14 when he wrestled a six-year-old, killing him. The prosecutor chose to prosecute Tate as an adult for the crime.
Supporters of trying juveniles as adults argue that it is necessary, particularly in Florida. The state’s violent crime rate among juveniles is among the highest in the nation, almost 50% higher than the national average. Supporters also believe treating juveniles as adults will act as a deterrent to other juveniles, persuading them not to commit violent crimes.
Counterproductive Response to Violent Crime
Critics of the prosecution of Lionel Tate point out that charging juveniles as adults strikes at the very heart of juvenile justice. They also argue that sending juveniles to prisons increases the likelihood that they will reoffend—up to 33% more likely, based on one study. Instead, critics believe that even violent offenders should go through the juvenile system, like all other minors suspected of committing crimes.
As critics point out, juveniles are not treated as adults because they have not fully developed emotionally or mentally. Treating them like rational adults is the wrong approach and will not yield the benefits that “tough on crime” advocates pretend.
Speak with an Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney
How Florida should treat juveniles will continue to be a source of controversy, with each side expressing valid concerns. Parents whose children are charged with crimes must realize that the state could potentially lock their child up for a very long time and must act accordingly. The best thing you can do right now is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.
At Moses & Rooth, our Orlando defense attorneys we represent juveniles accused of crimes. To speak with one of our criminal defense lawyers, please schedule a free initial consultation by calling 407-377-0150.