09/22/2011

SPLC Calls for Florida Counties to Stop Housing Juveniles in Adult Jails

The Southern Poverty Law Center joined a coalition of community advocates today in urging Florida counties to resist placing children charged as juveniles in adult jails, a practice that was recently authorized by the Florida legislature.

At a news conference in Tampa, the SPLC, the NAACP, parents, church leaders and other advocates presented thousands of petitions from residents of Florida and across the country opposed to the practice of housing juveniles in adult jails.

Florida lawmakers recently removed key aspects of state law that had provided standards and protections to meet the unique needs of children.
 
“County commissioners have the power to keep children out of adult jails and to protect them from unnecessary dangers they face in these facilities,” said Christine Henderson, co-director of the SPLC’s Florida office. “We stand with the communities today and say ‘no’ to undoing 40 years of juvenile standards. We call upon the leaders of these counties to refuse to warehouse children in adult jails – exposing them to terrifying conditions.”
 
National research shows that children held in adult jails are twice as likely to suffer assault, abuse and even death as children held in juvenile facilities. More than 40 years ago, Florida removed children from adult facilities and placed them into juvenile-specific facilities. This came on the heels of frequent incidents of children being raped, assaulted and abused while held in adult jails. The new Florida law destroys the protections that were created to protect children – safeguards that adult facilities cannot provide.

“It’s appalling that some leaders across the state feel free to cut corners without regard to children’s lives,” said Pastor Moses Brown, founder of Tampa-based Feed the Children and a member of Pastors on Patrol, a community advocacy group. “County leaders must have the courage to say our kids are worth the effort and refuse to cut corners when precious lives are at stake.”
  
Both of Michelle Knight’s children were housed in adult facilities. “Kids make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they still aren’t kids,” said Knight, who lives in Pinellas County.

Debra Anderson, a former juvenile probation officer from Sarasota County and NAACP member, urged county officials to recognize the damage this practice will inflict on children. 

“If county leaders don’t take a stand for our children by rejecting this law, children who are already vulnerable will live out nightmares while locked up in jails with adult criminals,” said Debra Anderson. “There’s a reason we have special protections in place for juveniles. If county leaders truly care and hope to give kids a chance to make better decisions, they must keep them in juvenile facilities where they can get treatment and rehabilitation services they won’t get in adult facilities.”

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