The state of Florida is well known for vacationing (Disney World, sandy beaches, and great weather), but it is also known for its criminal justice system. Florida’s judicial system has received a lot of attention in recent years with the controversy of Stand your Ground Laws and recent reports showing the state has moved more juveniles to adults in the court system.
According to a new report, the state is on the wrong side of international human rights law. A Human Rights Watch review of Florida’s policies for juveniles charged with crimes found more than 12,000 children have been moved from the juvenile to adult court system in the past five years- more than half of whom were charged with non-violent crimes.
The report, released Thursday, found that 98% of all the children who end up in the adult court system do so as a result of Florida’s “direct file” statue, which allows prosecutors the discretion to move a case from juvenile to adult court without a hearing or any input from a judge. Between 2003 and 2008, Florida transferred juveniles into the adult court system nearly two times as often as the state with the second highest transfer rate, and five times as often as the average rate in 12 other states.
Black youths are also disproportionately affected by the law, according to the report. While black boys make up 27% of those who enter the juvenile justice system, they account for more than half of all transfers to the adult system. White boys actually make up a slightly larger proportion of those who enter the juvenile system- 28%- but they comprise slightly less than a quarter of those who end up in adult court.
Heather DiGiacomo, communications director for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, said the department had not had the opportunity to fully review the report and couldn’t comment on it.
The report also found that black boys are more likely than white boys to be charged as adults for drug felonies and for violent crimes that are not murder. The report also alleged that some prosecutors may be using the threat of adult charges to get defendants to plead guilty in juvenile cases. This is not be a new tactic; an HRW report released in December claimed federal prosecutors use the threat of harsh mandatory minimum sentenced to extract guilty pleas from drug defendants. Ninety seven percent of federal drug defendants plead guilty.