Prosecutor reveals proposed overhaul to Florida’s juvenile justice system

ORLANDO, Fla. — State Attorney Monique Worrell unveiled a series of proposed reforms to juvenile justice sentencing this week, kicking off an expected debate about a “missing middle” to sentence kids and teens charged with serious crimes.


Worrell first previewed her proposals during a Parramore community meeting in December, saying she was being forced to decide between sending kids to the juvenile system, where they’d receive little more than a slap on the wrist, and the adult system, where they’d be potentially imprisoned for decades.

She renewed many of the calls she made in front of Orange County lawmakers Thursday, explaining that it’s currently hard to treat a 10-year-old child like the age they are when they’re charged with murder.

“18 months is not long enough. 12 months is not long enough,” she said. “We have to truly rehabilitate these children before we release them into the community and expect there to be a change in behavior.”

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The other option: placing them in the adult system.

“As a community, we are throwing away the hopes that we have for the rehabilitation of that child,” she said.

Worrell’s proposals largely give the court system more control over juvenile sentences after they’ve been handed off to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

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A slate of them deal with probationary periods. One of them gives courts oversight over probation for teens charged in the juvenile system after they turn 19 years old. Another stops the clock on probations when a juvenile violates the terms of their release until the court figures out the appropriate punishment. The current system incentivizes kids and teens to flout the rules, knowing no matter what they do the probationary period is set to end.

Another set of overhauls would allow courts to set a minimum amount of time a child or teen must spend in rehabilitation programming and require that the program be successfully completed. It would also allow the system to add onto the sentence if the child or teen misbehaves, a practice forbidden under the current set of rules.

Finally, Worrell proposed making rehabilitation an equal goal to punishment throughout the criminal justice system, rather than secondary, which would help fulfill her long-stated mission of reforming the system to be more thoughtful and fair toward the people who pass through it.

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“The frustrations on the state’s part is that the criminal justice system as designed, the department is just using it as a revolving door, get these kids in, get them out, get them on their way,” WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer said. “The most positive effect of these changes is the fact that that there are now consequences if a child doesn’t successfully complete a program. They’re not going to just be able to be released without accomplishing either rehabilitation and or punishment.”

It isn’t clear if Worrell’s proposals will be taken up by the Florida legislature this spring, let alone passed. Multiple lawmakers who received her pitch said they needed more time to analyze the changes before they would be ready to comment on them.

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