Current Florida law requires kids being charged as adults to be held in regular jail while they wait for their trial. New federal standards that go into effect at the end of next year require minors to be held in juvenile detention centers, with few exceptions. Lawmakers are moving forward with a bill to make sure Florida is in compliance.
Rep. Ramon Alexander (D-Tallahassee) is behind the bill. The measure would align Florida with changes made to the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 2018.
"It basically said if states want to continue to receive federal grant money for juvenile justice programs, they have to make it so that kids are held pretrial in juvenile facilities and not put in adult facilities," explained Southern Poverty Law Center’s policy counsel Scott McCoy.
McCoy says the change is important "because it will likely keep many more children out of adult jails. And keep them in juvenile justice facilities where they have more safety and a better chance of getting programming and education and rehabilitation."
But under current Florida law a minor who is being tried in adult court is held in adult jail. McCoy says that's a concern because ,"children that are kept in adult facilities are more than likely to be assaulted or sexually abused, are at higher risk of suicide."
A U.S. Department of Justice study found in 2005, 21% of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence victims were under the age of 18. Juveniles only make up 1% of all jail inmates.
Rep. Ramon Alexander’s bill would make sure children aren’t put behind bars with adults unless a judge agrees it’s necessary.
"It says that kids won’t be transferred to an adult jail if they are prosecuted as an adult, unless a judge makes a decision after a hearing and in writing says that it is in the interest of justice that the child be held in the adult court," McCoy said.
Under the propoals, if a judge does find it necessary for the child to be in adult court then he or she must review that decision every 30 days. That change would put Florida in line with the federal Act and allow the state to receive grant money.
The measure passed unanimously and now has two more committee stops. The Senate companion hasn’t yet been heard.