By Professor Paolo Annino
Clinical Law Professor Paolo Annino is a supervising attorney at Florida State University’s Public Interest Law Center. At the school, Professor Annino leads select law students in a special program focused on bringing attention to the issue of juveniles in adult prisons.
Florida State Law Professor Paolo Annino and his students involved in the Children in Prison Project holding photos of a few of the young inmates they have advocated for and helped.
As head of the Children in Prison Project, Professor Annino and his students advocate for better prison conditions for juvenile inmates. Yet, while advocating and providing pro bono legal help to juvenile inmates, Professor Annino and his students discovered that there was an injustice being committed against some inmates who hadn’t been free since they were kids.
Professor Annino and his students found that in many cases these offenders, who were sentenced as juveniles, grew up to be model adult inmates meaning that they were effectively rehabilitated and deserved the opportunity to be paroled.
So the professor and the students of the Children in Prison Project drafted the Second Chance Act for Children in Prison of 2009 legislation to present to Florida lawmakers. The bill would help about 300 Florida inmates who got life or hefty sentences when they were children.
Though a version of this bill failed to pass in 2008, things are looking a little brighter for the 2009 version. Professor Annino reports that members of a recent Senate Committee hearing unanimously passed the Second Chance for Kids in Prison Act of 2009 and members of a House Committee hearing did likewise.
However, there is one more committee hearing in the Senate and three more in the House that the bill must travel through before it is brought to the floor for a vote.
In a special post to Latina Lista, Professor Annino explains the need for the Second Chance Act for Children in Prison of 2009 bill. His post not only highlights what it means to those inmates affected in the state of Florida’s judicial system but underscores the impact of such a bill for all communities of color who see too many of their young people locked up and forgotten.
Florida takes the lead in placing the youngest children in the adult prison system. The most recent Florida data shows, there is 1 inmate who was 10, 4 inmates who were 11, 5 inmates who were 12, and 31 inmates who were 13 years old at the time of their offense.
These children all received adult prison sentences of more than 10 years. Of the four inmates who were 11 at the time of their offense, three are Hispanic.
In total, there are 448 inmates who received adult prison sentences of 10 years or more and who were 15-years-old or younger at the time of their offense. Approximately 10 percent of these child inmates who received long adult prison sentences are Hispanic.
Florida State University College of Law, Children in Prison Project has been researching the issue of children in Florida prisons for over 11 years and based on this research, FSU law students have created the Second Chance for Children in Prison Act of 2009 (House Bill 757 and Senate Bill 1430).
This Bill provides hope for children in adult prison.
The Second Chance for Children in Prison Act recognizes that children are different. Children can be rehabilitated. The newest discoveries of neuroscience show that a child’s brain is still developing throughout adolescence.
This is a fact that every parent of a teenager can confirm from personal experience. This Act provides these 448 adolescent offenders adjudicated as adults in Florida the opportunity of parole. Only those adolescent offenders who have worked to get their lives back on track while in prison and who have already served at least 8 years of their prison sentence are eligible for parole under this Act.
The adolescent offender must establish that he or she is rehabilitated in order to qualify for the opportunity of parole. The adolescent offender must show educational improvement, self improvement, good behavior, and other evidence of rehabilitation.
The State of Florida abolished parole for most crimes in 1983 and for all crimes in 1995, when there were only a handful of adolescent offenders in adult prison. In 1983 and 1995, the Florida Legislature did not contemplate that hundreds of children would be sent to adult prison in the last two decades.
This Act acknowledges that we have a new social reality of having a significant number of adolescent offenders in our prisons and that because children are biologically different from adults, they are more amenable to rehabilitation.
The Bill is sponsored in the Florida House of Representatives by Representative Weinstein (R) and in the Senate by Senator King (R). Both lawmakers believe children can be rehabilitated and are leaders in helping the children in our state.
A special note of recognition needs to go to several Miami lawmakers who have helped move this bill forward, Representative Planas, who as a chair of an important House Committee brought the bill to a vote, Representative Garcia, who ran across the Capitol courtyard to make the vote that passed the bill favorably out of the House Public Safety and Domestic Security Committee, as well as Senator Villalobos and Senator Wilson who both voted for this bill in the Senate.
The adolescent offenders who would be affected by this bill are simply seeking an opportunity to establish they have been rehabilitated.
(For Florida readers of Latina Lista, we ask that you please speak to your senators and representatives and encourage them to support our children and to give them this tremendous opportunity.
Contact President of the Florida Senate, Jeff Atwater, at (850) 487-55229 and Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Larry Cretul, at (850) 488-1450.)