Legislation would reform the way children are prosecuted in adult criminal court statewide
Legislation sponsored by Senator Bobby Powell (D-West Palm Beach) seen as a key component of criminal justice reform in the state of Florida is heading for its second Senate hearing, following a bi-partisan 5-1 vote of support in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday.
“I thank the Committee for recognizing the need for change,” said Senator Powell. “Our children are losing their futures in the current system. That benefits no one—not the state of Florida, not the criminal justice system and, certainly, not these kids.”
Backed by a broad array of social, religious and legal advocacy organizations, including the Florida Public Defenders Association, the Florida PTA, the ACLU of Florida and the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, Senator Powell’s ‘direct file’ bill, SB936, would reform the way children are prosecuted as adults in Florida
Currently, there are three ways juveniles are sent to the adult criminal justice system: indictment, judicial waivers and direct file, the latter giving prosecutors, not judges, the sole discretion to decide how children are prosecuted. Florida leads the nation in the numbers of children prosecuted as adults and is one of only three states that do not involve a judge in those decisions.
Senator Powell’s legislation would change that by eliminating mandatory direct file, prohibiting the direct filing of 14- and 15-year-olds, and revising the list of crimes for which prosecutors can decide to send children of any age into the adult system, among other important provisions.
“No one is saying children should not be held accountable for their actions,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a supporter of the bill. “What we’re saying is they should be held accountable in the system we designed for that purpose, which is not the adult system, but the juvenile justice system. Otherwise, it’s tantamount to throwing them away.”
Senator Powell’s bill next heads to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.