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Articles tagged with: Florida

NEW POLL: Floridians Share Thoughts on Criminal Justice Reform

Jade Kendrick Thursday, 06 October 2016 Posted in 2016, Across the Country

 

A recent survey conducted by the James Madison Institute and the Charles Koch Institute gives deep insight of Floridians’ thoughts on criminal justice reform in their state. The survey results couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Recently, Florida prosecutor, Angela Corey, lost her chance at reelection in the primary. Corey was notorious for pursuing harsh sentences. She is notorious for failing to get a conviction on George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin. She did a number of other injustices during her eight years in office.  Corey charged a 12 year old boy named Cristian Fernandez with first degree murder of his 2 year old brother, David. Cristian, David, and their other brother and sister had been left at home, without supervision, while his mother was at work. That’s when David received a serious head injury and died. Cristian’s mother came home and took Cristian to school. She would wait eight more hours before taking David to the hospital. While the details around how David was injured are still foggy, Corey immediately deemed Cristian the perpetrator. Cristian was held in an adult jail until his conviction where he sentenced to life without parole. Corey would later fight Cristian’s transfer to a juvenile facility. Corey doubled the number of felony cases in Florida where minors were charged as adults. It would be one of Cristian’s lawyers who challenged and defeated Corey.

So what does her losing the election have to do with this survey?

For one, they show a drastic change in attitude with the Florida population. 72% of Floridians believe that it is time to reform the criminal system in Florida and 64% believe that there are too many nonviolent offenders serving time. The opinions show the possibility that kicking out hard prosecutors means that Floridians want different sentencing practices.  62% of Floridians also said they trust judges over prosecutors to decide if a minor should be charged as an adult. That contradicts Angela Corey’s efforts to increase the number of felony cases for minors charged as adults.

The survey is on par with changing laws in Florida. Recently, the state legislature repealed the “10-20 Life” law that required judges to give mandatory sentences to gun involved offenses. Unfortunately, this repeal will not apply to offenders currently incarcerated, even though 63% of Floridians agreed that it should apply to those already in jail. However, this is still a major step for Florida’s criminal justice reform. Another more preventive law Florida has passed a law regarding mental health and Medicare. This plan requires Medicare to offer comprehensive treatment plans for patients diagnosed with a mental illness. Because people with mental illnesses will have better access to treatment, in the long run, the number of mentally ill people with a criminal record will decrease. Still in discussion in the Florida state legislature is the Direct File bill. This bill would limit the power prosecutors have when deciding to charge a juvenile as an adult. Currently, the law states that if a juvenile, no matter the age, commits a certain offense, such as murder or sexual battery, the prosecutor can send them straight to adult court. Under the new bill, state attorneys can only use direct file for juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18. And the prosecutor can only direct file if it involves the 21 offenses listed in the bill. While the first goal of the bill was to make transfers only to be decided by a judge, supporters of the bill had to compromise in order to move it along. The Human Rights Watch found that Florida has more juveniles transferred into the adult court than any other state. The Florida government has been slow to keep up with public opinion. With new legislation being introduced and passed, hopefully criminal justice reform will begin to take effect.

Millions in Budget Savings if Direct File Reformed in Florida, Analysis Finds

CFYJ policy intern Nils Franco Friday, 12 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Research & Policy

From safer communities to more efficient government, new research outlines the benefits of reforming direct file

Reforming Florida’s direct file system will improve public safety outcomes and help sustainably balance the budget, according to a new policy brief entitled “No Place for A Child.” Prosecutors in Florida transfer more youth to the adult criminal justice system, without any checks or balances, than in any other state in the country.

The new research came out the same morning the Florida senate moved forward on direct file reform legislation. On Thursday, Senate Bill 314 earned a second unanimous vote of support from the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice. The Republican subcommittee chairman thanked the researchers for their work after hearing from Floridian judges and advocates who support the bill.

The authors of the brief, researchers from the free market–oriented James Madison Institute and the Florida State University Project on Accountable Justice, gathered FY2010 data from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide unique insights into the fiscal and social impact of reining in direct file. Their research complements a recent website with specific stories of direct-file Florida youth.

Direct file – a unilateral transfer performed by prosecutors before any hearing or due process can occur – accounts for 98% of the state’s cases of minors in the adult system, which remarkably totaled more than 10,000 cases in the past five years. Ending or reforming the practice of direct file would allow youths’ cases to be more fairly considered by a judge for transfer, and would greatly reduce the total number of transferred youth in the state.

This decrease of youth in the adult system would move more children back to a system that focuses on rehabilitation, which is especially appropriate because both DOC and DJJ data suggest that direct-filed youth would pose a low risk in the juvenile justice system. In fact, the researchers use government risk assessment tools and find that if direct-filed youth were processed in the juvenile justice system, fully 87% would not be placed in secure detention.

Moreover, the policy brief finds that keeping direct file–eligible youth in the age-appropriate juvenile justice system would save the state $12.6 million in ten years, with annual savings accumulating annually just four years after the reform. The authors point out that placing youth in the adult system demonstrably harms rehabilitation; in their words, “the adult system sets children up to fail.” Nonetheless, another decade of the status quo would cost Floridian taxpayers more than $175 million dollars.

Similar to adults’ cases, almost all of children’s cases in Florida’s adult system end in plea bargains, the brief finds. When a plea deal or a sentencing decision leads to probation for youth, which occurred in 72% of children’s cases in FY2010, 53% of youth on probation ended up in prison, either for a felony (70%), or for a probation violation (30%).

Without access to the rehabilitative services offered by the juvenile system, the authors note, youth have no developmentally-appropriate guidance to reform their behavior. Poor outcomes with adult-system probation reflects near-certain causative evidence that placing children in the adult system significantly raises transferred youths’ recidivism rates.

The researchers call for reform of direct file after concluding that the practice negatively affects public safety, children’s mental health and potential to reform, and the state’s budget. Finding a way to offer more due process and rehabilitative opportunities for children, they say, will be “unambiguously positive” for the state, its government, and its young adults.

A direct link to the research is available here.

You can read more about the lives affected by direct file practices in Florida by visiting www.noplaceforachild.com.

 Chart of the fiscal impacts of direct file reform in Florida.

The Detriments of Direct File

Brittany Harwell, CFYJ Policy Fellow Wednesday, 10 February 2016 Posted in 2016, Research & Policy

Brittany Harwell, CFYJ Policy Fellow

Direct File occurs when a state has given the prosecutor power to file charges against a juvenile directly in adult criminal court. When a prosecutor exercises their discretion by choosing to file directly to adult criminal court they effectively override any juvenile or family court jurisdiction over a case. Direct file allows the prosecutor to hold all of the power in determining where to bring charges and what type of sentence a youth may receive if convicted.

Allowing the prosecutor to direct file is problematic because many prosecutors want to go for the most severe punishment and do not fully take into account important considerations for unique to each youth in the same way that a judge who could allow a transfer would consider.This lack of individual consideration is exacerbated by, “…wide variation among the States regarding criteria for direct file treatment, with some emphasizing offense categories, others the age of the juvenile involved, and still others the extent and seriousness of the juvenile’s offending history.” 

A majority of states do not allow their prosecutors direct file capabilities. This does not mean that a youth cannot be transferred to an adult court but rather that a judge considers several factors before allowing a transfer requested by the prosecutor. Youth can also be tried in adult criminal court through mandatory transfer. Mandatory transfer is not the same as direct file, mandatory transfer occurs when certain crimes have been deemed by statute to require a juvenile to be tried in adult court.

Some states that previously had a direct file systems chose to discontinue the practice because, “not only does direct file omit a disinterested arbiter for the child’s best interests, it plunges youngsters — and increasingly those charged with nonviolent crimes — into the much more punitive adult system.
Additionally, it has been found that direct file has had little effect on violent juvenile crime. If these direct file capabilities of the prosecutor fail to affect juvenile crime then why are they needed in the first place?

Currently, 16 states still allow direct file while the rest of the country has moved away from the practice. The states that continue to allow prosecutors to direct file youth into adult court are: CA, MI, DC, FL, LA, GA, PA, MT, NE, OK, VT, WY, VA, AZ, AK, CO. Of the state that currently allow direct transfer both California and Florida lawmakers are considering a move towards a more equitable juvenile justice system by ending direct file. California has made progress towards creating a more just juvenile justice system over the last few years, but moving away from direct file ability will ensure that judges, not prosecutors are making transfer decisions for youth after a consideration of several different factors. In 2014, 393 juveniles were transferred to adult court in California and 1607 juveniles were transferred to adult court in Florida. These numbers include both judicial waiver and prosecutorial direct file but. A recent study from Human Rights Watch found at 98 percent of the juveniles who end up in adult court are there do to “direct file” of a prosecutor.This means that over 1500 children in one year alone would benefit from direct file reform in Florida.

Florida Must Protect Youth Behind Bars, Comply with PREA

By Tania Galloni Wednesday, 13 May 2015 Posted in 2015, Across the Country

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This week, governors across the country are facing an important deadline. They must let the Department of Justice know by Friday if their state is complying with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

All eyes need to be on Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

His response will affect the group most vulnerable to sexual violence in prison – young people. More than 2,000 of the state’s prisoners are under 21. As of today, there are more than 400 youths age 18 and under in Florida’s adult jails and prisons.

Floridians are already familiar with media reports of violence and abuse of our adult prisoners. But youths in prison don’t always report sexual assault. When they do, they often report multiple incidents.

Unfortunately, the governor hasn’t shown federal officials whether the state is keeping youths safe in its prisons. He could even remain silent on Friday. Under PREA, governors can choose to not provide information to federal officials, but their state will face a financial penalty.

If Scott chooses this route, Floridians need to let him know that this is unacceptable. There is federal money available to help states comply with PREA, but Florida must assure officials the state will reach compliance. Reaching compliance may not be an easy task, but it must be done. There is no excuse for Florida not to take every step to protect youths from sexual assault in prison. 

Tania Galloni is the managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Florida office.

For more information and to join Florida reform efforts, please visit: http://noplaceforachild.com/

Please visit our blog this week for updates on PREA from around the country.

Additionally, here are some sample posts for social media, please share:

Twitter:

“There’s No Excuse” national week of action to end prison rape #ImplementPREA

Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed to end sexual abuse behind bars. Act now to #ImplementPREA

PROBLEM: Jails & prisons are not equipped to protect youth from dangers of adult facilities. SOLUTION: #ImplementPREA

PREA would help the more than 2 million people behind bars including the 100K youth in jails & prisons every day  #ImplementPREA

There's No Excuse! Protect Children from Rape in Adult Jails & Prisons. Take Action TODAY#ImplementPREA

Implementing PREA will save lives. Join our efforts to protect youth behind bars #ImplementPREA

Facebook:

On any given day, over 8,000 youth are confined in adult jails and prisons. Research shows that youth are not safe in adult facilities and are at the greatest risk of sexual victimization. Youth are 36X more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than in a juvenile detention facility. Take Action during the “There’s No Excuse” #ImplementPREA.


Prison rape is no laughing matter: More than 2million people behind bars including the 100K youth in jails & prisons are at risk of sexual abuse every day. The Prison Rape Elimination Act was passed to end sexual abuse behind bars. Its time for Governors to ensure that PREA is implemented in every state. Learn more and take action #ImplementPREA

New Report: US Prison Populations Increase, Number of Youth in Prisons Declines

Courtney Thomas : CFYJ Intern Monday, 22 September 2014 Posted in 2014, Research & Policy

A recent report released by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), reveals that the U.S. prison population has increased for the first time since 2009. The report, “Prisoners in 2013” notes that state and federal prisons held approximately 1,574,700 prisoners on December 31, 2013, an increase of about 4,300 prisoners from year-end 2012.

This reversal in a three year trend of declining prison population rates is due to an increase in 2013 of 6,300 inmates in the state prison population. This is a significant change from a similar BJS report published about two years ago, “Prisoners in 2011,” which displayed a decline of 21,614 state prisoners at year-end 2011.

Report Shows Florida Prosecutors Abuse Direct File Power

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 Posted in 2014, Research & Policy


In a recent report titled “Branded for Life,” the Human Rights Watch condemned the state of Florida’s outdated policies of allowing juveniles to be moved to the adult court through “direct file.” This policy allows a prosecutor to have unfettered discretion to move any juvenile offender under 18 into the adult court. “Florida transfers more children out of the juvenile system and into adult court than any other state. In the last five years alone, more than 12,000 juvenile crime suspects in Florida were transferred to the adult court system.” Roughly 98% of Florida youth in adult courts are there because of the arbitrary decisions of prosecutors stemming from this “direct file” process.