31, 2001 Amanda Riddle of the Associated Press reported that a recent
study in the State of Florida shows that young inmates are more likely
than adults to return to crime after being released from prison.
While a state official said the findings
support national research showing juveniles' recidivism rates are higher
than adults', youth advocates say the study supports their criticism of
Florida's stringent laws for young criminals.
The laws, which allow prosecutors to try
juveniles as adults and subject them to mandatory prison sentences, came
under scrutiny in the wake of two recent South Florida murder cases
where 14-year-old boys were sentenced as adults.
Lionel Tate received a life
sentence in March for fatally beating a 6-year-old family friend. Nathaniel
Brazill was sentenced Friday to 28 years in prison for shooting his
The study by the state Department of
Corrections analyzed recidivism rates for inmates released from prison
since July 1993. It included only those arrests that resulted in
convictions. The report found the following rearrest rates for
different populations of inmates :
Prisoners Under Age 18 When Released: 51.3% rearrested
within 2 years.
Average Of all inmates Released: 34% rearrested within 2
Prisoners Between 18 & 24 Years Old When Released: 40%
rearrested within 2 years
"Once they get a felony conviction
and go to prison, this has lifelong consequence in terms of your job
prospects and what you then can do when you come out," said Melissa
Sickmund, senior research associate with the Pittsburgh, Pa.-based
National Center for Juvenile Justice.
The study also found that young
inmates return to crime sooner than older ones. It took 18 months
for 47 percent of inmates under 18 to commit another offense, compared
to four years for those 25 to 34 years old.
"Putting kids in the adult system is
pretty much giving up on them, as these data prove," said Vincent
Schiraldi, president of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in
Florida is one of the nation's leaders in
sending youth to adult prisons. The state transferred 3,297 youths to
the adult system in 1999-2000, compared to 5,350 in 1995-96. The
reduction reflects a nationwide drop in crime.
Schiraldi said the state should keep more
young offenders in the juvenile justice system, where educational,
vocational and substance abuse treatment programs provide them a greater
chance of turn their lives around.
But Bill Bales, bureau chief of the
Correction Department's Bureau of Research and Data Analysis, said the
study wasn't intended to evaluate the effectiveness of the adult prison
system for rehabilitation compared to juvenile facilities.
The study's findings that Florida's youth
return to the prison system at higher rates than adults "is really
consistent with virtually all studies that examine recidivism," he
Bales also said that it's the worst youth
who are transferred to the adult system, so they're more likely to
return to a life of crime than the general adult population, who have
been incarcerated for a broader range of offenses.
However, Schiraldi pointed to a
1996 study that showed Florida youth transferred to adult court were a
third more likely to commit another offense than those sent to the
juvenile system for the same crime.
He praised a new state law that will keep
juveniles housed separately from adults inmates until age 18. But
judges, not prosecutors, should be given the power to transfer juveniles
to the adult system, he said.
"I still think there's room for a
lot more reform in the Florida system," he said.
On the Net: Department of
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice:
This story can be found at : http://ap.tbo.com/ap/florida/MGA7SV0DUPC.html