Can you guess the worst state in which to be an adolescent facing trouble with the law? If you answered Florida, you’d be right. Though New York and North Carolina stand out for having the lowest age at which juveniles can be tried as adults no matter what their crimes (16), Florida transfers more kids to the adult prison system than any other state.
Kids who enter adult prison often experience rampant sexual abuse and exit more hardened criminals. These juveniles are more likely to reoffend and less capable of rehabilitation, costing taxpayers more long-term. If your teen is arrested for a crime, you should know how easily they can be tried as adults in the Sunshine State.
How Juveniles in Florida End up in Adult Court
Florida currently employs the most archaic direct file statute of all fifty states. Between 2003 and 2008, Florida prosecutors transferred an average of 164.7 juveniles per 100,000 to adult court — nearly twice as many as Oregon (95.6 per 100,000), which transferred the second-highest amount. Direct file laws give prosecutors the ability to move youths to the adult system at their discretion, without any input from a judge. No hearing takes place, and there is no burden on prosecutors to explain why these kids belong in adult court. Juveniles cannot object to their placement and may not dispute the decision.
Direct file accounts for 98% of all youth in adult prisons. Over half of these juveniles are in for nonviolent offenses. Additionally, direct file disproportionately sends black youths to adult prisons. Members of Human Rights Watch who have thoroughly studied the issue state that, while black boys make up 27.2% of all children arrested for a crime, they account for 51.4% of children sent to adult court.
Should Children be Tried as Adults?
It is common knowledge that teens are spontaneous and more likely to act on impulse, which can lead to serious consequences. Mounds of scientific evidence exist showing that the brains of juveniles are not fully developed; in fact, our frontal lobes continue to mature well into our mid-twenties. This is where judgment and planning take place in the brain.
From a logical standpoint, it does not make sense that teens should be tried as adults for their crimes, especially for nonviolent offenses. According to Human Rights Watch,
“Neuroscience, recent US Supreme Court decisions, and a by-now large and growing literature show that children, including 16- and 17-year-old juveniles, are different and in important respects less culpable than adults who commit the same crimes, and more amenable to rehabilitation, a key objective that the juvenile system is designed to achieve.”
In conclusion, Florida’s direct file statute does not significantly improve public safety; instead, minors who end up in adult prison are more likely to reoffend than those whose cases are handled by the juvenile justice system. This is because they are more likely to be victims of abuse and “shown the ropes” of being a criminal. Minors placed in juvenile detention centers have a better chance at one day becoming productive members of society.
Discovering that your child faces criminal charges is often a painful and confusing experience. Attorney Brian Gabriel works closely with minors and their parents to guide them through the justice system so they may have the best chance at a bright future ahead. For over 30 years, Mr. Gabriel has dedicated his legal practice to defending the rights of those who are accused of criminal offenses throughout West Palm Beach. Contact The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel by calling 561-622-5575 for a free consultation.