A Plan for Legislative Advocacy

A Plan for Legislative Advocacy: Florida’s “Direct Filing” of Non-Violent Youth

John R. Jones, Jr.

April 21, 2013

 “As kids we know right from wrong but we do not know the full consequences.
Please ask people to give us a second chance.” Juvenile Life (Nellis, 2012, p.37)

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,
but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel

“Change comes from power and power comes from organization.”
(Alinksy as cited in Hansen, 2008, p. 416)

Stop Direct File (4)The state of Florida is one of only fourteen remaining states where the state attorney retains sole discretion to transfer juvenile non-violent criminal cases to adult criminal court, a process defined in Florida Statute as “direct file.” At the time of sentencing the judge has the right to impose either criminal or juvenile sanctions whereas in the majority of states, the judge has this right of determination at the time the charges are initially filed in court by the state attorney. Research studies indicate that the recidivism and violence increases for youth who have been detained within the adult prison as compared to those receiving rehabilitation services available in the juvenile detention system. Grounded in a critical theory conflict resolution approach, this paper outlines an approach to legislative advocacy to return the direct file decision solely to Florida judges for non-violent crimes, similar to the change in Colorado law in 2012. Following a presentation of the history and background of the issue and my personal involvement and role with my son who was direct filed, a strategy for legislative advocacy is developed that includes the positions of the parties and the need for a distributed power coalition (Gelak, 2008) to bring public education, opinion and pressure that may help influence the legislative process towards positive reform. Two current bills in the Florida State senate and house seeking short-term relief for direct filed youth will not make it out of the committee process in time for floor votes as the current legislative session will end on May 3, 2013. Careful planning for the 2014 or a future legislative session with more comprehensive legislation appears ripe to provide voice and reform to this marginalized group of youth in the State of Florida.

Critical Theory Approach

This plan uses critical theory conflict resolution principles as presented by Hansen (2008) to address the social injustice of charging non-violent youth as adults. Critical theory is a method of conflict resolution wherein the oppressed group (non-violent youth), upon gaining critical consciousness (awareness) of their plight enacted by the establishment (wittingly or unwittingly), gains voice to reverse the injustice (Gill, as cited in Hansen 2010). Although critical theory has its origins in Marxism, modern adaptions utilize incrementalism in lieu of revolution to “transform societal relationships and institutions that are exploitative, creating a more equitable society” (Hansen, 2008, p. 407). Using incrementalism, this paper addresses short-term symptoms of the injustice, specifically, the detrimental effects of punishment vs. rehabilitation for non-violent youthful offenders. Ultimately, the long-term systemic or structural origin of youth crime must also be addressed. Youth, and often their parents, due not possess requisite cognitive maturity, knowledge and skill to attain sufficient voice that arises from critical consciousness. A galvanized coalition of advocacy, including a grassroots campaign (Gelak, 2008) and the use of “problem-posing education” (Freire as cited in Hansen 2008, p. 408), is necessary to address power imbalances and enact remedies that benefit both youth and society.

As a mental health counselor and a family law mediator and parenting coordinator, I am familiar with the neutral role of practitioners when using problem solving, mediation, negotiation and facilitation for conflict resolution. However, as noted by Hansen (2008), “Critical theory does not rely on this neutral position but rather calls for conflict resolution practitioners to explicitly state power imbalances, take a partial position with the underdog , and seek to go beyond conflict settlement, helping parties change oppressive social relationships” (p. 412). Hansen (2008) also notes that practitioner ethics under critical theory align with the social worker’s focus on “…the common welfare of humanity, meeting the needs of all in society…” (p. 415). In the attendant case, the sole discretionary power of the state attorney, an elected politician and government official, is challenged by the potential for improved social justice by an evidentiary hearing before a juvenile or family law court judge with a ‘best interest’ knowledge of family systems and rehabilitation benefits versus a political agenda of being tough on crime (in spite of significant evidence and research that this agenda does not work for juveniles).

A Brief History and Background

National. Up until the reform movement of the late 1800’s, juveniles age 14 or over were tried, convicted and housed as adult prisoners under the common law system. A group called the Progressives citing the common law doctrine of parens patriae created the first juvenile court in 1899 in Illinois. Parens patriae essentially grants the state power to parent the unfortunate, uncontrollable child and treats the child as a ward versus a criminal of the state. (Yerington, 2007; McCurdy-Jackson, 2011; and Center for Disease Control, 2007). It would take fifty more years for the remaining states to adopt juvenile courts which gave judges the power to administer “personalized justice” and rehabilitation measures that operated more like a “social agency” than a criminal court (Yerington, 2007, p. 6). Juveniles were taken into civil custody and adjudicated delinquent versus being arrested and tried in criminal court. Laws did allow the judge the sole authority to transfer juvenile cases to adult court when a child could not be rehabilitated. The underlying or fundamental belief was that juveniles are not as accountable as adults and also did not need the procedural safeguards of due process protected under the U.S. constitution as the focus was on rehabilitation vs. punishment as criminals. The juvenile court system operated under this manner for nearly seventy years before the Supreme Court became involved in 1966 with Kent v. United States to introduce these safeguards for youth. However, some view this case as also the beginning of the end of the parens patriae doctrine as many states used the principles of Kent to shift the principle of rehabilitating juveniles to protecting society from them through formalizing the criminal transfer or direct filing system (Yerington, 2007, McCurdy-Jackson, 2011).

Following juvenile crime waves in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s most states toughened their laws to transfer juvenile cases to adult court, including the lowering of ages and the severity of crimes either subject or mandated for direct transfer (Center for Disease Control, 2007, and McCurdy-Jackson, 2011). In 1996, between 20-25% of all juveniles were tried in adult court (Center for Disease Control, 2007). In addition to the door being opened by Kent v. United Sates (Yerington), this expansion of direct filing was in response to public outcry to get tougher on crime (Yerington, 2007) which supports the observation that critical thought tended to submerge in in the conservative era of the 1980’s to 2008 (Kincheloe and McLaren; and Longres as cited in Hansen 2008). However, despite this tough stance on juvenile crime, only15 states had granted prosecutorial waver with most requiring an evidentiary hearing before the discretionary cases could be tried in adult court (Center for Disease Control, 2007; and McCurdy-Jackson, 2011).

The Supreme Court became involved in two other landmark cases. Roper v. Simmons in 2005 made the death penalty unconstitutional for juveniles and, most importantly, relied largely on medical science that adolescent brain development rendered them less culpable hence, the death penalty amounted to cruel and unusual punishment (Nellis, 2012; and McCurdy-Jackson, 2011). This acknowledgment of diminished capacity opens the door to transfer the principles of direct transfer and “signals a possible return to the rehabilitative focus of the juvenile justice system” (Yerington, 2007, p.16).
The second landmark case in 2010 of Graham v. Florida ruled it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles with non-homicides to a life in prison without the possibility of parole (McCurdy-Jackson, 2011). While again relying on non-culpability due to emerging brain science for the adolescent, the door could be opened to challenging all life sentences. Most importantly, “the Court acknowledged that the dismissal of rehabilitation as a viable goal for juvenile offenders is in direct violation of society’s preferred response to young offenders established over a century ago” (Nellis, 2012, p.30).
Florida. Although Florida originally established direct file legislation in 1978, fear of a juvenile crime wave in Florida was sparked by the attack of a British tourist in the early 1990’s. In 1994, the Juvenile Justice Act was passed by the legislature, modifying Florida Statue 985: Juvenile Justice; Interstate Compact on Juveniles. This act granted discretion to the prosecutor to transfer (i.e. “direct file”) cases, including non-violent felonies and even misdemeanors, to adult court bypassing an evidentiary hearing. The minimum age was also lowered to 14 (McCurdy-Jackson, 2011). In addition, section 985.557(1)(B) allows the state attorney to file when “in his or her judgment and discretion, the public interest requires adult sanctions be considered” (Office of State Courts Administrator, 2010, p. 95) Together with the ability to administer harsher sentences, the passage of this act “fed into the myth that this would curb and deter what was seen as an impending tidal wave of juveniles committing violent crimes” and gained Florida statutes “national and international notoriety” (McCurdy-Jackson, 2011, p. 13). The Center for Disease Control (2007) also challenges the myth of deterrence given “juveniles are less aware of consequences, less able to regulate impulses or inhibit behavior, and thus less culpable for their actions” (para 5).

There are now three paths for juvenile offenders to adult court:

Judicial Waiver: A juvenile court judge waives jurisdiction over the case after considering the merits of transfer for the individual youth.
Legislative Exclusion: A state legislature determines an entire class of juvenile crimes should be sent to adult court automatically, usually serious and violent offenses (Note: Florida has 19)
Prosecutorial Discretion: A state or local prosecutor has the authority to file charges against some juveniles directly in adult court (Urban Institute as sighted in Schiraldi and Ziedenberg, 1999, p. 3).

Since 1994, Florida has led the nation in the number of juveniles who are tried as adults with 7,000 cases in 1995 representing 42% of the national total. Of these, only 29% were for violent crimes, with the remaining non-violent crimes consisting of 55% property offenses, 11% drug offenses and 5% misdemeanors (Shiraldi and Ziedenberg, 1999). Florida also holds the record for the most juvenile offenders jailed without parole, “76 out of 109 in the United States or 70% of the total” (McCurdy-Jackson, 2011, p. 17). In an updated study by the Tampa Times, Florida continued to lead the nation in the number of incarcerated youth in 2007-08 with a 45% increase since 2003-04, although the total number of cases is only about half of the mid-1990’s cases (Martin, 2009). Worse, there are numerous studies that indicate a concern for bias towards African American juveniles (McCurdy-Jackson, 2011). One study conducted by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) found that “black youths were 2.3 times more likely than white youth to be transferred in Florida” (as cited in Shiraldi and Ziedenberg, 1999, p. 4). Further, the DJJ’s Blueprint Commission Report of 2008 found that between 2003-2007, black youth made up 52-57% of off all youth prosecuted as adults, yet black youth represent only 21% of the black population between 10-17 and represent only 39% of youth who end up in DJJ (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, 2008a). Worse, in my view, is that I find nothing in the DJJ implementation plan of the Blueprint Commission Report (Department of Juvenile Justice, 2008b) that places an emphasis on reducing direct transfers in favor of rehabilitation, much less a concern for disproportionate minority confinement.

Numerous studies are clear that transferring youth to adult facilities increases recidivism, both sooner and with greater violence. The Florida Bar News notes the existence of six large-scale studies (Pudlow, 2011) with one likely having been the 5-year study conducted by DJJ which found “49% of youth transferred recidivated compared with 37% of those who remained in the juvenile system” (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, 2002). Another study conducted in the journal of Crime and Delinquency “found that youth transferred to adult court in Florida were a third more likely to reoffend than those sent to the juvenile justice system” (as cited in Shiraldi and Ziedenberg, 1999). The Center for Disease Control (2007) cites a Florida study examining recidivism after the 1994 legislative introduction of prosecutorial waiver and found transferred youth committed more felonies after age 18 by 34%. The Center for Disease Control concludes from all of its national studies that recidivism and violence increase with direct filing.

In addition to evidence that shows public safety decreases as a result of direct filing, Shiraldi and Ziedenberg (1999) cite studies where transferred youth are five times more likely to report rape, twice as likely to be physically attacked by staff, and experience a 7.7 times higher rate of suicide than youth in juvenile facilities. There is also an issue with long-term costs of housing recidivated, direct filed youth (McCurdy-Jackson, 2011). This appears to leave an opportunity to exploit or reframe ‘tough on crime’ with being ‘high on costs.’
Attempts were made to address some of the issues with direct filing in the current 2013 legislative session by the filing of companion bills in the Florida Senate and House. Senator Christopher Smith (D) of Ft. Lauderdale filed SB 280 and Representative Bobby Powel (D) of West Palm Beach introduced HB 543 (Smith, 2013; and Powell, 2013). These bills seek to reform the aforementioned statute section 985.557(1)(b) by providing specific criteria the state attorney must follow when electing to use their general concern for public safety as justification for discretionary direct filing. These criteria include a preferred weight on offenses against people versus property, a consideration of the sophistication and maturity of the child and investigation, and review of the youth’s involvement with the Department of Health and Department of Children and Families. In addition, the bills add a reverse waiver wherein a child charged in adult court may request a hearing to transfer the case to juvenile court if, based on preponderance of evidence, it can be demonstrated that the child’s best interests are in receiving services in the juvenile system. These amendments could significantly improve the current situation and perhaps give pause to the state attorney. However, they do not go as far as requiring the evidentiary hearing thus ending the state attorney’s sole discretion for direct filing non-violent crimes. Finally, it does not appear that these bills will come to their respective floors for votes before the expiration of this judicial session on May 3, 2013 as neither bill was able to proceed through its requisite four subcommittees. Nevertheless, this is a start and provides an opportunity to learn from and improve upon in future years, in both bill design and understanding and working through the politics that apparently delayed passage this year.

Colorado. In April 2012, the Governor of Colorado signed bill 1271 which effectively eliminate discretionary direct filing by the state attorney for non-violent youthful offenses. This was a bipartisan supported effort passed with wide margins yet met with severe objection by the attorney general, prosecutors and law enforcement members. Proponents said the use of direct-file has been overused in since it was expanded in 1993 due to the Summer of Violence in Denver and the Governor admitted he almost vetoed it had it not been for the wide bi-partisan support (Hoover, 2012).
A poll conducted by the Pendulum foundation in 2009 found the public by a two-to-one margin believed judges should decide how to prosecute children and not district attorneys (Johnson, 2009). Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director of Pendulum Juvenile Justice said: “District attorneys are not impartial judges. They often have a political interest in prosecuting kids as adults” (Johnson, 2009, para 3).
A report prepared by the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (CJDC) found 85% direct file cases involve middle to low level felonies with only 15% involving homicide. In addition, 95% of direct file cases are plea bargained and the law disproportionately impacts black and Hispanic youth. Youth going to adult facilities are highly traumatized and at high risk for sexual abuse, and the likelihood is increased that they will be adult criminals (Dvorchak and Swenson, 2011). In addition, per Kim Dvorchak, Executive Director of CJDC, the direct file system decreases public safety and with regard to the high plea bargain rate: “This means the prosecutor chooses the charges, the court system, and the sentence” which denies youth “an individualized hearing on their rehabilitative potential” (Dvorchak, 2012, para 2).

Personal Involvement, Role and Relationship

My personal involvement began in 2002 upon becoming a volunteer Florida Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). Children who have been abused, abandoned or neglected and are placed in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and are appointed a GAL to provide them with an additional voice in court. The GAL provides placement recommendations to the dependency court judge that are to be based on the child’s best interests.

Shortly after completing graduate psychology studies in 2005, I became a licensed foster care parent and, in 2009, I adopted my foster son.  Although oppositional at school and home, his petty crimes never involved violence. He became a crossover youth in 2011.  He was given probation for this offense and shortly thereafter was violated for curfew and school suspensions (disrespect of teachers). He spent nine months in a DJJ level six program. Within a week of coming home, he re-offended with another property crime.  The judge gave him a second chance by restoring his probation (vs. being sent back to a DJJ facility). He then re-offended with property crimes.   As a consequence of these property crimes, the state attorney used the discretionary waiver to direct file him as an adult and he was housed at the local adult detention facility. After approximately six months in October 2012, we accepted the plea bargain of time served, adult probation and adjudication withheld. I had written a letter to the state attorney in March 2012 requesting a reconsideration of the direct filing (Attachment 3) which received no response. I was given the opportunity to include my input to the pre- sentencing investigation in July 2012 (Attachment 4) However, there was no ability to reverse the direct file at that time.
The mistake was made by me in not fighting for juvenile sanctions when we accepted the plea bargain in October 2012. As can be seen in Attachment 4, I had argued for him being placed for a longer period in a rehabilitative juvenile program where he was to be held accountable for grades as one of the his conditions for release. Because of my hopes that he had enough of adult jail (age 17 at that time), I did not think through the high probability of his violating probation given his lack of maturity and impulse control and the consequences that he would face of incarceration with adults for any future violations.

About a month later, he was violated for two school suspensions from his alternative school and for violating curfew and the state initially demanded that he be sent to adult prison for three years (!). After ninety days in adult jail (this time housed with the adult population), and the appointment of a new felony court judge, his probation was restored and doubled; and, he was given a two-year suspended sentence in February 2013. Sadly, in March 2013, he broke his curfew and incurred a new property violation. He is now in jail likely awaiting the previously suspended two year sentence. This was most unfortunate as this was the first evening on his new job and had just enrolled in the local GED program.

Despite the repeated problematic behaviors of my son, I stand by my letter in Attachment 1 as to his good underlying nature. He is a classic example of an immature, sensation seeking, non-violent youth who could have done much better had my sentencing recommendation in Attachment 2 been followed. Now he faces the reality of no rehabilitative services in an adult prison leaving most of the next two years as a waste of time as I fear he will learn very little. Sadly, there is very little I can do for him now. As I note in my letter to DCF program attorneys (Attachment 5), all I can do now is advocate to change the law and educate parents and youth to not take plea bargains that result in adult probation, especially if the child is not capable of complying.

My role remains the same in continuing to be a community advocate for children as a GAL and psychotherapist. I can now advocate for reform within the juvenile justice system and I have established relationships in the community that can be leveraged and I am an energized and passionate advocate for children that can be infectious and vital to developing a grassroots campaign. Hopefully, and if necessary, my experiences and credentials might provide a unique voice alongside genuine expert witnesses called to testify before the requisite legislative subcommittees or floors of the governing chambers in Tallahassee, FL. Although it is sad my son has not responded positively to the judge’s warning and to my parenting style, perhaps his recidivistic choices over the last year also epitomize the cognitive concerns and lack of rehabilitative services in the adult detention center where he has spent most of the last year.

My letters to the state attorney and judge (Attachments 3 and 4, respectively) were written without any investigation or understanding of the history and availability of evidenced-based research that contra-indicates the use of direct filing. In hindsight, I see my letter to the state attorney as attempting an emotional, compassionate, and logical approach to negotiation. The lack of response from the state attorney symbolizes a common positional power tactic of refusing to negotiate (Lewicki and Ury). My letter to the judge, while naively insightful and superior in logic to the state attorney by advocating for rehabilitation (and community safety), loses its power to influence in its high degree of frustration and emotionality (i.e. my moralistic claim of child abuse by the state attorney). This approach also violates negotiating principles of ‘not leading with the solution’ and missed the opportunity of attempting to ‘step to the side’ of the state attorney to find a common solution (Ury, 2004). At the very least, my approach galvanized the oppressor into his status quo, in effect, ‘dehumanizing’ the state attorney by taking away from their own ability to find compassion for the oppressed (Hansen, 2008). Further, this high degree of emotionality is a negotiating error as it fails to influence and drives a wedge between the parties (Lewicki, 2009; Ury, 2004) in its attempt to influence the judge who would have served as mediator/arbitrator had we not plea bargained. Not only did it lack appreciation of the state attorney’s ‘worldview’ (Docherty, 2005), it also did not go beyond a ‘reactive stance’ to explore the underlying causes (Hansen, 2008). I now know so much more about the topic that could have been used more persuasively and this only accentuates the magnitude of the power imbalances faced by most families in similar predicaments. However, and while I would change negotiating tactics now, my letter to the judge may have influenced the agreement for time served in their plea bargain offer. The moment will haunt me forever was when I said “yes” to my attorney when she relayed their expectation that I would stop talk of juvenile sanctions with their offer. I did not stick to my initial convictions which I see now are borne out and supported by the research. I went with the emotion of hope that my son was ready to change. Nevertheless, Hansen (2008) views this “reflexively questioning” of my own experience and values as necessary before helping other families confront the social injustice of the current direct file system.

Strategy for Advocacy

Critical Theory Preamble. In employing a critical theory approach to advocating for legislative reform, and given my lack of knowledge of the intricacies of negotiating state politics, it will be necessary to exercise an egalitarian, if not subservient and respectful approach, that utilizes a high degree of reciprocal learning as I am not the expert (Hansen, 2008, and citing Galper). I need to find a mentor and/or mentoring organization who shares my passion for this needed legislative reform.  No matter where I serve, I see an opportunity to conduct research and use networking skills to help galvanize a coalition focused on grassroots and media campaigns (Gelak, 2008). Networking to build power based on relationships and honoring the referent power of a mentor (Lewicki et al., 2011) will be critical to the success of this advocacy endeavor.
Summary of the Opportunity – Identifying the Key Drivers of the Problem for Planning Strategies (Gelak, 2008; Lewicki, et al, 2011; and Ury, 1993). The direct filing policies of the State of Florida not only do not work, they are dangerous to the youth involved and to the public at large. It appears that DJJ is not the major problem as it has conducted its own studies of recidivism rates for transferred versus detained youth (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, 2002). Further, in my experience with DJJ for my son, they supported my request for juvenile sanctions and detention (Attachment 4). It does appear, however, they may have a policy of not voicing politically contentious positions given no mention impact of direct filing on their goals and facility capacity in their Blueprint Commission of Report of 2008 and complimentary Implementation Plans through 2011-2012 (Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, 2008a and 2008b).

The Florida Bar appears to be an ally as they have created a Direct Filing Subcommittee of The Florida Bar’s Legal Needs of the Children Committee which unanimously approved a recommendation to support legislation to restore judicial authority in September 2011 (Pudlow, 2011). This committee is working to support the original recommendations of 2002 and it is a bit concerning as to what has happened between 2011 and the failure of the bills in the current legislative session (i.e. SB 280 and HB 5543). Contacting the Florida Bar for a practicum opportunity appears to be another option, slightly ahead of the DJJ as an alternative.

Governor Rick Scott could also play a key role in influencing the Attorney General. His April 11, 2013 news release of “Let Kids Be Kids” notes his signing of HB 215 which reduces rules and regulations for foster kids (Scott, 2013). The signing was attended and supported by other likely key allies such as the head of DCF and DJJ.

The other major parties to negotiate with are the elected members of the Florida legislature. More information is needed on the political developments behind the demise of the current bills in subcommittees. Upon identifying their concerns as to how their constituents may view their support of legislative reform, an education campaign will needed for these parties with a simultaneous media campaign to the public. Whether or not professional ‘count the vote’ lobbyists will be needed requires additional investigation. Advocacy efforts in the Attorney General’s office will require careful coordination and synchronization with this communication with legislators. Influence from the Governor, DCG and DJJ and public opinion may also be helpful to efforts with prosecutors and legislators. It appears the most effective way to overcome obstacles to political deadlock and to drive bipartisan support like in Colorado will be to bring the weight of public opinion. This is consistent with Gelak’s (2008) building grassroots movements from the organized efforts of the people versus the government. The education of legislators will focus also on their communications with constituents as a vital aspect of any grassroots campaigns per Gelak (2008). Finally, this approach of educating prosecutors and legislators has the opportunity to create ‘converts’ within the system as they learn of the injustice experience by these oppressed youth of Florida (Hansen, 2008).

Media Campaign and Messaging. Even more so than in Colorado, over 80% of Florida citizens are against the politicization and criminalization of the juvenile justice system, with 64% believing that even violent youth can be rehabilitated. This latter view is supported by 70% of liberals, 66% of moderates, and 57% of conservatives (Mears, 2009). This stands in stark contrast to the policymakers’ get-touch stance on crime and Florida’s notorious position of incarcerating more youth than any other state. The issue appears ripe to galvanize public opinion and drive bipartisan support. As Mears notes, “More than 100 years after the birth of the juvenile justice system, we have strong evidence that the public’s ‘child-saving orientations’ still flourish in spite of punitive attitudes and political ideology” (para11).

The overall campaign position driver (Gelak, 2008) will combine emotional issues of compassion for our youth with smart, economical approaches to juvenile justice that save money and increases public safety. A corollary campaign will be to bolster rehabilitation outcomes in the juvenile detention centers. This overall approach to media is also consistent with principles of critical theory by compelling the oppressors to the table by making the injustices public (Hansen, 2008).

Overall strategy. The overall plan will be to build a coalition. The main objective is to eliminate discretionary waiver of the prosecutor for non-violent youth crimes by returning this transfer right to the judiciary as was done in Colorado and existed in Florida prior to 1994. The BATNA (Lewicki et al., 2011; Ury, 1993) would be the passing of bills similar to the one that have stalled in the current legislative session.


The current direct filing system of non-violent juveniles in Florida is ineffective and ripe for change. Significant evidence was identified that shows recidivism is higher and more violent for youth have been directly transferred to adult prison. Public safety and social spending are compromised in the process. Youth also are exposed to other serious dangers under the current system including physical and sexual abuse, and higher rates of suicide. This paper has used a critical theory approach in conjunction with negotiating, lobbying and advocacy techniques to build reform coalitions that are galvanized by grassroots and media campaigning. Hopefully, non-violent youth and society at large will be the beneficiaries.

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ATTACHMENT 1: Letter to State Attorney

248 South Park Circle East
Saint Augustine, FL 32086

March 28, 2012
State Attorney for
St. Johns County, 7th Judicial Circuit
251 N. Ridgewood Avenue
Daytona Beach, FL 32214
Facsimile (386) 239-7711


Dear Mr. Larizza:

I am writing you a very short letter to ask you to please reconsider charging my adopted son as an adult. I am very saddened the state would overlook this child’s history in foster care, the 3-5 year maturity lag for children with ADHD, and the fact that his latest crimes were primarily theft of property (i.e. no use of weapons or physical violence).

None of us know the level of abuse he suffered in the first 10 years of his life. I adopted him at 14 and he became a cross-over child at 15. While he has certainly committed crimes that are unacceptable and deserve consequence, I believe with all my heart and mind, we have a moral obligation to this child and every dependency/crossover child (without violent crimes) to give them every possible chance until age 18. I think we also have to consider the message this sends to foster parents who patiently and agonizingly stand by these troubled youth.

He may have failed his Level 6 program at a D22 Facility but, the truth is, this program also failed him: no report cards to the parent during the entire 10 months (despite numerous requests); no coordination between therapist, psychiatrist and on-site school; no accountability on him for A/B grades, well within his capability; an unfinished therapeutic treatment plan with therapists who don’t see school performance as a part of their clinical focus; and, releasing him within 10 days of having a fight with another adolescent. As you know, the DJJ detention system suffers from high rates of recidivism and these examples for my son are prime opportunity areas.

I am also asking that you please recommend he be transferred as quickly as possible to the DJJ Level 8 facility in St. Augustine so that I can work with these teachers, therapists and administrators to hold him accountable for academic performance and behavioral contracting until age 19, if necessary (and to stop him from currently languishing in the adult detention center). This was the plan of the probation officer and I had targeted/hoped for him, had he failed the second chance given him by the Judge in February. He had just returned. Had I known he would be charged as an adult for failing Judge Alexander’s second chance (which he did subsequently through mostly theft charges with friends), I would have asked the state not to drop my grand theft auto charge and immediately place him back in a DJJ facility.

He was abused as a child, forcing us to label him as a dependent foster child. Even though we found a wonderful opportunity for him in my home as my son, we were still forced to label him as adopted. We do have a choice here not to label him as an adult criminal and I am appealing to your compassion and mercy to stand by him and our entire dependency system. I know the risks are high he may let us down, but I have an obligation as his father, and as a community advocate for abused children, to keep him out of the adult prison system for as long as possible.

I firmly believe we are appropriately balancing his best interests with the needs of the community by immediately placing him in a Level 8 facility (where he still has a chance to pursue his education, turn his life around and return to high school). He is, honestly, a very sweet and good-natured young man, popular among both good and not-so-good kids at school, but sadly, he also remains an immature and wounded young man – in need of treatment, not adult prison. He is still just a boy who doesn’t even realize where he is; please give him a chance – a chance to wake up, before it’s too late. I pray and know you can understand he’s had enough night terrors for all of us.

Thank you for your kind consideration.

Sincerely yours,
John R Jones, Jr., MA, LMHC
Adoptive Father
Licensed Foster Care Parent
Guardian Ad Litem
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Certified Family Law Mediator
Qualified Parenting Coordinator, Statute 61.125

ATTACHMENT 2: Input To PSI (Pre-Sentencing Investigation) Report
For Judge
—–Original Message—–
From: John Jones <jr********@ao*.com>
To: Department of Corrections
Cc: cheryl <ch****@al********.com> (AARON’S ATTORNEY)
Sent: Fri, Jul 27, 2012 12:15 pm
Subject: Input to the PSI for my son

Dear Mr. ___________

First of all, thank you for your open and candid discussion with me. I
found you to be very fair in attempting to understand my frustrations in
dealing with the office of the State Attorney. In addition, your
willingness to attach my letter of March 28, 2012 to State Attorney
was a most helpful suggestion on your part and I want you to know
that I truly appreciate that! I would appreciate if you could include the
following paragraph in the PSI document:

Your Honor, I would like to begin by thanking Mr. _________ of the DOC for
his attaching my letter of March 28, 2012 to the State Attorney to this PSI
report. This letter notes extenuating circumstances in the case of my
previously abused son that are being overlooked by the State Attorney in
their decision to direct file him – even though the crimes were
NON-VIOLENT! I find the fact that The State Attorney never responded to my
letter, at all – much less on the merits, to be a most troubling situation
not only for my son, but for all cross-over foster/adoptive children who
have committed non-violent crimes. Further, I find this lack of
responsiveness/compassion and the decision to stay the course of only
punishing and labeling a child (vs. examining rehabilitation only possible
through juvenile sanctions and commitment) to be a heinous act, tantamount
to child abuse. Yes, I believe that State cannot ask foster parents to
care-take children in the dependency court and then turn their backs on
them in criminal court (for non-violent crimes) – that is a systemic and
moral failure that needs to be addressed. I believe my statement alleging
child abuse by the State with all of my being and have largely dedicated
the last 10 years of my life to helping children from such unfortunate
circumstances. My plan in the March 2012 letter, that was worked out with
the probation office and ensures a greater protection for the community
than the State’s plan, is still the best chance of rehabilitating my son.
My plan potentially incarcerates him longer by holding him accountable for
improved behavior and academic performance up until the age 19 (even 21 if
that is possible) and, it includes my commitment to working with the local
juvenile facility as a highly involved parent. The State’s plan essentially
closes off his return to high school, forces him into a GED and exposes him
to elements in adult jail that have a chance of aiding him to a life of
crime (vs. experiencing the self-esteem growth that is made possible by him
finally using his numerous intellectual skills to perform in school). I am
also completely mystified by the State’s offer of an additional six months
in jail to withhold adjudication – this logic being???. Given this is a
juvenile, who says the State’s offer should be the only one to be
considered – especially when it is bankrupt in intention and morality, and
smacks of expediency and electioneering? Your Honor, I know you know this –
but it is now up to you to protect our children and our citizens – the
State has shown they don’t care about the former. Please, your Honor,
surely justice can include compassion AND an intelligent approach to
rehabilitation that best serves the child’s and the citizens’ long-term
interests. Thank you, your Honor. John Jones, father.
John R. Jones, LMHC
St. Augustine, FL