February 27, 2015 8:19 PM
Courtesy CBS Miami
TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – As Florida’s legislative session gets underway next week, some lawmakers are calling for measures to help teens move on after paying their dues in the juvenile-justice system.
Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, joined children’s advocates on Thursday in Jacksonville, saying he would support efforts to give kids a “second chance.” Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, is sponsoring a bill (SB 1316) that would allow the expunging of records for minors who commit nonviolent misdemeanors and go on to complete diversion programs. Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, are sponsoring a proposal (SB 334, HB 205) that would shorten the length of time juvenile offenses stay on the record for minors who aren’t serious or habitual offenders. The problem, said Dina Sarver, 22, a medical scribe in Port St. Lucie, is that a juvenile record can lock young people out of jobs, colleges, housing and the military — for the rest of their lives.
Kelly Otte executive director of the PACE Center for Girls in Tallahassee, has heard many such stories. “You’re 14 years old – you make a stupid decision to do something – you end up being in the juvenile justice system, and six years later it means nothing to you, what you did. You’re not even the same person,” Otte said.
Currently, in Florida, most juvenile records aren’t expunged until the offender is 24, and for some crimes not until age 26. Since most job and college applications require disclosing an arrest, those with juvenile records often find the doors slammed — no matter what gains they’ve made in their lives.
What’s more, according to the Children’s Campaign and the Dolores Barr Weaver Policy Center, between 70 percent and 90 percent of girls in the juvenile system have experienced sexual violence, abuse and neglect in their homes. To escape the trauma, many girls run away from home — a crime if they’re under 18. “The first thing that experts tell adult women in abusive situations to do is leave their homes to escape their abusers, yet doing so often puts girls on a fast track to being locked up,” Lawanda Ravoira, president and chief executive officer of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, said in a statement.
Bean and Ravoira joined Children’s Lobby spokesman Roy Miller and Allison DeFoor, chairman of the Project on Accountable Justice, in Jacksonville on Thursday. They called for new laws that allow most juvenile records to remain confidential and to be retained only until the offender reaches 21. They also want to automatically expunge records upon completion of diversion programs or in cases where charges were dismissed or unsubstantiated.
Democrats have filed the bills that would accomplish much of that during the upcoming legislative session. But DeFoor pointed to the involvement of Bean, a Senate Republican, as a sign that the bills can succeed in the GOP-dominated Legislature. “I don’t think it’s going to end up being a partisan issue,” DeFoor said.
The News Service of Florida’s Margie Menzel reports that the Juvenile Law Center claims Florida has too many loopholes that allow juvenile records to become public. These records create barriers to youth when they try to get a job, secure housing, pursue higher education, or join the military. This is especially true for youth of color, who are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. HB 205 reduces the age at which a juvenile’s record is expunged (from 24 and 26 based on severity of offense to the date of the juvenile’s 18th birthday).
Please contact the individuals below and express your support for this important legislation:
Chair Trujillo Rep. Van Zant (Vice Chair)
417 House Office Building 400 House Office Building
402 South Monroe St. 402 South Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300 Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300
(850) 717-4852 Phone: (850) 717-5019