Let’s say you’re a teenager and you do something stupid. I know, hard to believe, right?
Maybe you get caught with a small amount of pot, or you’re in the wrong place when a fight breaks out. Maybe you’re out with the guys and ended up someplace you shouldn’t, or you committed a petty theft.
You’ve never broken the law before, but someone called the cops and soon you’re handcuffed in the back of a squad car with a record that will stick to you like gum on the bottom of your shoe. Potential employers, college admissions officers and just everyone else will want to know what happened the night you went stupid.
That’s why it’s encouraging that Senate President Joe Negron is aggressively trying to decriminalize these minor transgressions. Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, has filed Senate Bill 196 as part of the effort to back up Negron’s plea to “not criminalize adolescence.”
Negron isn’t talking about letting teens who commit serious crimes off the hook. He is talking nickel-and-dime stuff, like the time when George H.W. Bush was running against Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination for president. Negron slipped over to Bush’s home on Jupiter Island and put Reagan stickers on his mailbox.
Instead of arresting him, the cops told him to go back and clean up the box. But then came the push for zero tolerance for any infraction and things that in the past would have earned the youthful offender a stern talking-to started resulting in the kind of punishment that never really goes away.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2015 that Florida prosecuted more than 10,000 minors in a five-year period – the highest total in the nation. It told how juveniles are often housed with adult inmates, leading to abuse and injuries.
The SPLC’s reported added that the “Justice Policy Institute found that it costs as much as $55,407 a year to lock up a young person in Florida, although the Department of Juvenile Justice’s budget suggests the cost could be twice that amount. These policies also fail to make us safer. An adult court conviction diminishes opportunities for education and future employment. And children become more likely to reoffend, not less.”
That’s why getting someone with Negron’s power behind this push is essential. Turning certain misdemeanors into a citation instead of a police record is smart and overdue. Hopefully, his colleagues in Tallahassee agree.