I am writing in response to the series on juveniles in adult prisons published March 18th and 19th, 2001.
My View: Youthful Offenders Serving Adult Sentences
The Miami Herald articles presented the public with a biased, misleading and factually incorrect picture of the important issue of how the judicial and correctional systems sentence and treat juvenile offenders. This is a complex issue that requires a much more rigorous scientific and analytical approach to address than The Herald was willing to put forth.
The factual basis of many of the conclusions stated by The Herald are inaccurate and resulted in misleading the public and policy makers about these issues. Some examples of our concerns are presented here and readers are encouraged to visit our website, www.dc.state.fl.us, for a more detailed critique of the articles.
Significantly, juveniles in prison have histories of criminal conduct. A study by DOC of all juveniles in prison on February 28, 1999 shows that virtually all (98.7%) of these offenders had prior juvenile records. Also these juveniles had an average of 16 arrests, an average of 3.4 violent arrests, and two thirds had more than ten arrests. Additionally, nine of every ten of these juvenile offenders were arrested for a violent crime and more than 60% were arrested for three or more violent crimes.
We are proud of the various programs we offer to youthful offenders in our facilities and the staff who provide them. More often than not, youthful offenders behave impulsively, lack appropriate social and behavioral skills, lack adequate education, come from dysfunctional families and have varying histories of chemical abuse.
The Herald states, "Young convicts leaving adult prison are more likely to continue with crime than juveniles accused of similar crimes leaving juvenile programs. Sending a juvenile to prison increases by 35 percent the odds he'll re-offend within a year of release." There is no validity to this claim. The study failed to control for many characteristics that are highly associated with recidivism rates such as gender, program and work involvement in custody, educational level achieved, and institutional behavior. Second, The Herald relied on the results of a study published in 1996 that was based on youths sentenced in 1987. This was prior to the establishment of the Department of Juvenile Justice. In 1987, the adult prison system was plagued by early prison release, brief lengths of stay in prison, and inmates serving less than 30% of their sentences.
The Herald states that "The DOC logged 362 assault complaints involving juvenile victims in the five-year period - one for every two juvenile inmates." This is factually incorrect. The Herald incorrectly calculated the rate of assaults alleged by adult or juvenile inmates against juvenile inmate. They divided the number of alleged assaults in which the victim was a juvenile (362) by the average inmate population over the five year period (622). In fact, there were a total of 3,631 different inmates in prison from 1995 to 1999 who were juveniles at some point during their incarceration. Therefore, a more accurate statement would be, "one for every 10 juvenile inmates" (362/3,631) instead of "one for every two inmates."
The Herald states "The department could not produce reliable data on how many juveniles in prison are sexually assaulted..." This is not true. The department is legally prohibited from providing information that could lead to the identification of the victims of alleged sexual assaults. However, the department did provide a document to The Herald which displayed the number of victims, by each age, for each year from 1993 to October 2000 for investigations of sexual offenses. Of the 506 investigations over this entire period, only seven involved a juvenile victim. The Herald chose not to present these facts to their readers.
This article also states that, "The sentencing database is missing data on about 65 percent of the cases handled in Florida...". This is wrong and The Herald was provided the correct information well prior to publication. Our yearly compliance report, shows that 30 percent, not 65 percent, of this data has yet to be supplied to us by the courts.
This department carries out the mandates of the Governor, Legislature and judicial branches of government. Once youthful offenders are in our custody, our staff does their utmost to make sure they fulfill the sentence of the court in a safe and humane manner. We also address through programming, the issues that brought them to the criminal justice system and prepare them for a successful transition back to their communities.
Unfortunately, the reality of youths committing crimes that warrant prison sentences by the courts is a fact. Our job is to handle the issue with the same constitutional and professional manner as any other inmate in a special population.
The following additional information can be found on our website: