Under current legislation, in the state of Florida there is no minimum age requirement for an individual to be criminally indicted as an adult.
However, Bishop William Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee wants to change that.
This week, Bishop Wack urged support for House Bill 509 and Senate Bill 936, which would reform the current system and prevent youths under the age of 14 from entering the adult criminal system.
“Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution,” Bishop Wack wrote in a Feb. 12 opinion piece at the Tallahassee Democrat.
“While there is no question that violent and dangerous youth need to be confined for their safety and that of society, children should not be treated as though they are equal to adults,” he continued.
Wack pointed to the story of a Florida boy, named Tim Kane. He was 14-years old when his friends killed two people. Because he was a witness to the crime, he was indicted for felony murder and charged as an adult.
While Kane had no previous criminal record, he will serve life in prison for being “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Wack.
The Florida bishop pointed to the numerous dangers involved with charging a youth as an adult. Wack said this process creates a “threat to public safety because it creates more crime,” since “recidivism rates for children prosecuted as adults are higher than rates for children whose cases are resolved in the juvenile justice system.”
“Adult facilities are not equipped with the appropriate education and transition services for children,” Wack said, also noting that children experience a higher risk of “sexual abuse and suicide” in the adult criminal system.
When youth are charged as adults, they will also carry the label of “felony conviction” with them for the rest of their lives, which would bar them from partaking in various opportunities, such as serving in the military, receiving financial aid, and voting.
Because of these various downsides, Wack encouraged state legislators to support House Bill 509 and Senate Bill 936 in the upcoming session. These bills would make it impossible for a youth under the age of 14 to be transferred into the adult criminal system. It would also offer other juvenile justice protections and make changes to the current law.
“Present scientific knowledge of the adolescent brain and the development of children demonstrates that children are different from adults,” Wack said.
“It is time to establish a minimum age for indictment.”