Rights group questions trying teens as adults

Report finds Florida tries juveniles in adult court more than any other state

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A human rights group from New York alleges Florida prosecutors are unfairly sending thousands of children into the the state's adult justice system. 

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch urges legislators to repeal Florida's "direct file"' statute which gives prosecutors -- not the judge -- the discretion to charge teens as juveniles or adults.

Among the findings in the 110-page report, the group finds that Florida transfers more children into the adult court than any other state in the nation.

The report says if convicted of low-level non-violent offenses, children can suffer lifelong consequences by having an adult felony record. The report also alleges Florida is treating its black male youth more harshly than their white counterparts.

State Attorney Angela Corey's office calls the report inaccurate.

The state attorney's office issued a statement saying:
"We are continuing to review the 100-plus page report, which appears to contain, several significant inaccuracies. A Florida statute does allows a court to impose juvenile sanction in any case the that state attorneys office has direct filed."

Corey was unavailable for comment but a spokeswoman told Channel 4 that she is very much in favor of the purpose behind civil citations, but she does not support the citation being issued for violent misdemeanors such as battery where there is a victim.

The report from the Human Rights Watch comes as no surprise to Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, who for months has been an advocate for using more civil citations, rather than criminal charges for teenagers who get into trouble.

"We have too many of our youth being processed through our justice system," Vitti said. "We should do everything we can to stop these kids from going through the criminal justice system. We know that adolescents make mistakes."

Duval County's civil citation rate for juvenile misdemeanors is 31 percent, while cities like Miami -- where Vitti last worked -– used civil citations 86 percent of the time.

"I think Angela Corey is driven by what she thinks is right, but her hard stance on this issue is leading to many children to go through the criminal justice system, and it's a strain on taxpayers and limiting opportunities for children," Vitti said.

The state attorney office points out that the state average for civil citations is 34 percent, so Duval County is in line with the rest of the state.

The researchers of the report also urged circuit court judges to take into account the child's developmental status and capacity for rehabilitation when making decisions in the prosecution and sentencing of juveniles.

Copyright 2014 by News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.