The Families of Youth Incarcerated (FYI) is an organization that is taking a bold and serious stance against the prosecution and incarceration of juveniles in the adult criminal system. Florida is one of 15 states that allow prosecutors to “direct file” adult charges against juvenile offenders but FYI is advocating for reform of these direct filing laws. There are two types of Direct Filing – Mandatory and Discretionary. Mandatory direct file stems from a state law requiring, for certain crimes, that a child 16 years and older be tried as an adult. Discretionary direct file allows the prosecutor to file charges for certain crimes against a child 14 years or older in adult court. A judge cannot reverse a prosecutor’s decision to direct file a case – even if he/she disagrees. Those harsh determinations are non-reviewable and non-appealable. In the United States today, over 2,500 individuals are behind bars for life without the possibility of parole for crimes that they committed as juveniles. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham vs Florida “that mandatory life without parole for those under age 18 at the time of their crime violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments.” Mandatory life precludes consideration of the juvenile’s chronological age, immaturity, impetuosity and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. These cerebral functions are controlled by the frontal cortex, the part of the human brain that does not fully mature until age 25. So it is insane to expect a teen or adolescent to make wise decisions when many are cognitively incapable of doing so. And adding insult to this impairment, the criminal justice system renders punishments that push these children, who have been torn from parents and familiar surroundings, toward self mutilation and suicide when they need only time to grow through their psychological turbulence. Rob Mason, Florida Public Defenders Association, stated, “If lawmakers won’t do away with the direct-file system, the state should look at giving juvenile defendants who are sent to adult court the option of seeking a reverse waiver, allowing them to argue they should not be tried as adults.” He added that Florida is only one of three states that do not give juveniles that legal option.
On October 26, 2013, FYI celebrated their Second Annual Justice Awareness Month in Jacksonville, Florida. Pictured left to right is the Keynote speaker, Renata Hannans, author of “P.S. Never Give Up Hope”, a book that showcases 10 juvenile offenders processed in the adult system. Guest speakers include Yvonne Hartley, mother of a 15 year old serving a life sentence; Nanette Delage, mother of a 17 year old serving a 40 year sentence; Judy Thompson, President, Forgotten Majority, Inc; Michele Stephens, President, FYI; and David Utter, Esq., Director of Policy, Southern Poverty Law Center (not pictured).
If you’d like to learn more about the Families of Youth Incarcerated, contact Michelle Stephens at (904) 338-1734. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miller vs Alabama 567 U.S. 2012
Graham vs Florida 2010
Juvenile Justice F.S. 985.557
A Parent’s Guide To The Teen Brain: http://teenbrain.drugfree.org/science/behavior.html