Local groups in Florida have collaborated to unveil the eight program in their “Pipeline to Prison” series of community forums.
Titled “Florida Law and the Effect of Adult Incarceration of Youths,” the latest forum was presented on October 16 at Franco’s Italian Restaurant on Gregory Street.
The program featured a panel discussion about the large number of juveniles in the state who are sent to the adult court system through the Direct File process.
It is also the second forum that tackles the issue of Direct File.
Pipeline to Prison: Direct File Explained
In the Direct File method, the state’s attorney solely decides whether the child is tried as a juvenile or adult.
Program organizer Paula Montgomery said this process leads to many children being tried as adults.
“There’s no judicial oversight; there’s no defense [input]. It’s just all in the hands of the state’s attorney. This process results in a great many children, actually, being tried as adults, particularly in the First Judicial Circuit.”
The First Circuit serves the four counties of Walton, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia in Northwest Florida.
In the fiscal year 2015-2016, it had 125 direct files, second only to the 131 cases in Thirteen Judicial Circuit in Tampa, figures from the March 2017 report of the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) show.
“Pipeline to Prison: Florida Law and the Effect of Adult Incarceration of Youths” Forum Unveiled
A short documentary kicked off the Monday program. “Stickup Kid” narrates the story of a young man who was sent to a California adult prison at the age of 16.
Dr. James Arruda, professor of psychology at the University of West Florida, led off the discussion with his talk on human brain development.
He pointed to the scientific conclusion that the brains of juveniles are not fully developed, thus affecting their planning and decision making.
Arruda believed they should be dealt with differently from adults.
In adult prisons, he said:
“There will be a lack of socialization, a lack of support and protection and a lack of decision-making. So, the frontal lobes, which aren’t fully developed but will be developing in those conditions, may not develop appropriately and may set that individual up for a lifetime of maladaptive behavior.”
Speakers at the forum included Tampa’s recently elected State Attorney Andrew Warren.
Also on the panel were:
- Kelly Richards, Juvenile Public Defender for the First Judicial Circuit
- Terry Terrell, retired First Judicial Circuit Judge
- Fred Gant, Pensacola attorney and activist
- Maya Rose Goldman, an Outreach Paralegal with the Southern Poverty Law Center
Pipeline to Prison Series: A Product of Collaboration
The “Pipeline to Prison” series was made possible through the collaboration between the Pensacola Bay Area League of Women Voter, ACLU, Campaign for Youth Justice, Coffee Party and Southern Poverty Law Center.
Montgomery, chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and member of the state organization’s steering committee on Juvenile Justice, said she will continue on working to improve the juvenile justice system for the children in the community.