State lawmakers aiming to change prison age bill

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
December 5, 2017


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Florida prosecutes more children as adults than any other state, but new legislation would reform the way the state handles non-violent offenses committed by minors.

The proposal also gives judges more say in prosecuting children as adults and requires them to justify why adult penalties are necessary when a minor is given an adult sentence.

Miguel Rodriguez was sentenced as an adult for breaking into a home at the age of 15. Rodriguez stated, “We thought this abandoned house was abandoned and nobody was going to be hurt by what we were doing.”

After breaking his parole on a technicality, he was sent to prison for three years.

Rodriguez continued, “I was arrested for a technical violation where I was at work past curfew.”

Since 2009, 14,000 kids like Miguel - some as young as 10 - have been indicted as adults in Florida. The new legislation would prohibit children under 14 from being prosecuted as adults for non-violent crimes. It would also take away the power of prosecutors to directly send 14 and 15-year-olds to adult court.

Dawn Steward, a Committee Member of the Florida PTA urged, “Kids are going to make mistakes. Should they pay for the rest of their life because of a non-violent crime or a non-violent issue?”

The Campaign for Youth Justice found minors held in adult prisons are 36 times more likely to commit suicide compared to those in juvenile detention centers. A study found 80% of Floridians believe juveniles convicted of a crime as an adult should serve their time in juvie until they turn 18.

Senate sponsor Bobby Powell says lowering the number of minors prosecuted as adults will also help the economy.

Powell claimed, “It definitely is a blemish on their record and makes it more difficult for them to get a job.”

The legislation would also prevent children from losing their right to vote as a result of being prosecuted as an adult.

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