ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida legislature has a chance to significantly impact how children are treated in the event they encounter law enforcement.
For the second time, lawmakers will try to pass legislation that would prohibit arresting young children.
“Children will be children and I don’t think we need to involve law enforcement every time a child acts up,” Sen. Randolph Bracy (D- Ocoee).
A House proposal prohibits the arrest of a person younger than 10 years old.
A Senate measure sponsored by Bracy goes further and would limit a child younger than 7 years old from being adjudicated delinquent, arrested or charged with a violation of law, except for a forcible felony.
Bracy pushed the measure last year, months after a 6-year-old was arrested at Emma Nixon Academy in Orlando. Her grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, said back then it was horrifying, and the child could’ve been charged with misdemeanor battery over what she believed was a tantrum.
“At the center they told us they even had to go find a stool for her to stand on because she couldn’t get high enough for the mugshot,” Kirkland said.
Channel 9 searched the state juvenile justice database and found children between 5 and 12 years old made up about 5% of arrests statewide, or about 2,000 to 3,000 each year since 2015.
In Orange County, the percentage is the same, but the raw number in that same group was 367 arrests in 2015 and continued to decline each year.
“I think about the trauma that a young child would go through. I think about my child who was six years old at the time. And when you personalize it like that, it really hits home,” Bracy said.
Lawmakers are expected to hear how the arrest has impacted that 6-year-old from her grandmother during a hearing in Tallahassee on Tuesday.