Seeking to reform Florida’s troubled juvenile justice system, Senator Bobby Powell (D-West Palm), Representative Ramon Alexander (D-Tallahassee) and Representative James Bush, III (D-Miami) have filed legislation prioritizing rehabilitating young offenders over discarding them into the adult penal system.
The first bill, SB 610/HB 285, allows a child being prosecuted as an adult to request a hearing before a judge to determine if the child should proceed in adult court.
“Every child deserves his or her due process rights to be respected by prosecutors within the State of Florida,” said Rep. Bush, who is sponsoring HB 285. “We want the law to allow children under the age of 18 years-old to be afforded an evidentiary hearing where a judge can consider the evidence being presented prior to the child’s transfer to adult court.”
“HB 285 is a step in the right direction for reforming juvenile justice,” said Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin (R-Miami), who is the prime co-sponsor of HB 285. “Currently, there is no ability to challenge a prosecutor’s decision to file charges against a child in adult court. With this bill we will preserve a child’s due process rights, balance the playing field, and give the child the ability to empower a judge to review the prosecutor’s decision to file charges against a child in adult court.”
The second bill, SB 618/HB 421, prohibits the holding of a child in a jail or other facility intended for the detention of adults while the child is awaiting trial.
“This legislation strengthens the basic protections for children in the criminal justice system and will provide alternatives to our current policies for the detention of children,” said Rep. Alexander, who is sponsoring HB 421.
Lastly, SB 628/HB 517, limits the process of adult transfer in which a juvenile is transferred to adult court for prosecution of their case. Specifically, the bill eliminates involuntary mandatory waivers, removes the ability to direct file a 14 or 15-year-old, and sets the minimum age for indictment at 14 years of age.
“These bills are an important step towards creating a more just and equitable system to reduce youth recidivism and ensure greater accountability in our detention and corrections systems of youth offenders in Florida,” said Rep. Alexander, who is also sponsoring HB 517.
“For the past seven years, I have championed direct file reform in both chambers of the State Legislature and every year, despite our efforts, the state of Florida continues to unfairly prosecute hundreds of children as adults,” said Senator Powell, who is the Senate sponsor for all three bills. “We must rehabilitate our children when possible through the juvenile system instead of perpetually punishing them through the adult system. After all, these children are the future of our state and deserve the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and contribute to society.”