to be young, criminal and from florida

In the entire world, as far as we know, there are slightly more than 100 people serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles in which no one was killed.

All are in the United States.

Seventy-seven of them are in Florida.

In November, the US Supreme Court heard appeals from two such convicted offenders. From the New York Times:
Several factors in combination -- some legal, some historical, some cultural -- help account for the disproportionate number of juvenile lifers in Florida.

The state's attorney general, Bill McCollum, explained the roots of the state's approach in the first paragraph of his brief in Mr. Graham's case.

"By the 1990s, violent juvenile crime rates had reached unprecedented high levels throughout the nation," Mr. McCollum wrote. "Florida's problem was particularly dire, compromising the safety of residents, visitors and international tourists, and threatening the state's bedrock tourism industry." Nine foreign tourists were killed over 11 months in 1992 and 1993, one of them by a 14-year-old.

Mr. Snyder, the state legislator, put it this way: "Instead of the Sunshine State, it was the Gun-shine State."

In response, the state moved more juveniles into adult courts, increased sentences and eliminated parole for capital crimes.

Thomas K. Petersen, a semi-retired judge in Miami who spent a decade hearing cases in juvenile court, said that the state's reaction was out of proportion to the problem and that it has lately failed to take account of changed circumstances.

"Back in the 1990s, there were dire predictions about teenage super-predators, particularly in Florida," Judge Petersen said. "Florida, probably more than other places because of that rash of crimes, overreacted. It was a hysterical reaction."

"People still go around saying things have never been worse," he added. "But violent juvenile crime has gone down even as the juvenile population has grown."

The state's brief in Mr. Graham's case said juvenile crime fell 30 percent in the decade ended in 2004. It attributed the drop to its tough approach to the problem.

Shay Bilchik, who served as a state prosecutor in Miami from 1977 to 1993 and is now the director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown, said the state took a wrong turn.

"We were pretty aggressive in those years in transferring kids into criminal court," Mr. Bilchik said. "There was a feeling that we needed to protect our streets."

He said later research convinced him that his office's approach was much too aggressive and had not served to deter crime.

"My biggest regret," Mr. Bilchik said, "is that during the time I was in the prosecutor's office, we were under the false impression that we were insuring greater public safety when we were not."

No comments: