Floridians Clearly Favor Less Adult Time for Juvenile Crime

In the wake of a presidential debate where both candidates were asked pointedly about criminal justice policy, it seems fitting to point out that a recent poll in America’s most populous swing state shows clear support for shielding more juvenile offenders from the adult criminal justice system.

A poll of 1,500 Floridians, with about half Hispanic respondents, showed overwhelming support for juveniles to be housed in juvenile facilities, and for judges to decide when it’s appropriate for a juvenile to stand trial in adult court.

YSI-MB-PageHere is the breakdown of responses for both issues.

Court Jurisdiction

The poll asked who a respondent would “trust more about whether to try a juvenile as an adult,” and presented three options: a prosecutor, a judge, or “not sure.” For context, Florida is among the few states that permit prosecutors virtually unfettered freedom to transfer juveniles to adult court. It transfers more juveniles to adult court than any other state in the union.

The response: 62 percent favor judges, 15 percent favor prosecutors and 23 percent were not sure.

Facilities

The poll asked respondents to either agree or disagree with the following statement: “Juveniles should stay in juvenile facilities and not be transferred to the adult prison system.”

The jurisdiction question was presented without any editorial comments, but this statement was presented twice in the survey, preceded by different lines. The two statements:

“When juveniles under the age of 18 are put into the adult prison system, their rate of recidivism — the percent that end up going back to prison — goes up by more than one-third.”

“From 2009 to 2012, 12,000 juveniles under the age of 18 were sent into the adult prison system.”

The first line is clearly meant to persuade the respondent toward agreement; the other simply amplifies the frequency with which youths end up in adult settings.

The response was exactly the same in both instances: 70 percent of respondents agreed that juveniles shouldn’t be in adult settings, 11 percent disagreed, and 19 percent abstained.

In summary, Floridians think judges are better suited to determine if a juvenile should be tried in adult court; and no matter who decides to do that, they’re for juveniles staying out of adult facilities while they are still under 18. Meanwhile, the state relies more on prosecutors for transfer decisions than any other state, and thousands of Florida juveniles are housed in adult facilities.

And what bleeding-heart, hippie organizations conducted this research, you ask? That would be the James Madison Institute and the Charles Koch Institute, two free-market and anti-regulation advocacy groups.

Valerie Wickboldt, vice president of communications for James Madison Institute, said it’s too early to be sure but she thinks there will be some state legislation on direct file policy this year.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.