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Juvenile justice reform in Florida: Minors caught with firearms would be charged with third-degree felony, Democrats argue the bill is unconstitutional


Florida – Minors in Florida who are found guilty of crimes involving guns could face more severe consequences. The bill, named House Bill 1181, was pushed through the Florida House with a significant majority, with 83 votes in favor and 29 against.

This legislation, proposed by Rep. Berny Jacques, a member of the Republican Party, aims to elevate the consequences for young individuals who commit crimes using firearms by upgrading the charge to a third-degree felony from what had previously been considered a first-degree misdemeanor. According to Jacques, increased accountability could act as a deterrent for minors considering firearm possession.

Critics, particularly from the Democratic side, have expressed concerns about several parts of the bill. One contentious point is the provision allowing for the detention of youths accused of crimes in secure facilities for up to 60 days, or possibly longer, before their court hearing takes place.

Representative Michele Rayner, a Democrat, highlighted that this approach contradicts both constitutional principles and basic human decency, arguing that it fails to protect our children’s rights and wellbeing.

Echoing this sentiment, Rep. Ashley Gantt, a member of the Democratic Party, pointed out research by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicating that being detained before trial can lead to a higher chance of recommitting felonies by 33% among juveniles.

Gantt criticized the bill for neglecting rehabilitation efforts, suggesting instead that it prepares young people for a life within the institutional walls, thereby benefiting the private prison industry. “We’re basically saying, you’re not worthy of any type of rehabilitation. Let’s just get you used to being in custody. Let’s institutionalize you so we can fill the beds in our private prison system,” she said.

Furthermore, Representative Yvonne Hinson brought attention to findings from the Vera Institute of Justice, which suggest that detention can actually increase the likelihood of re-offending as it exposes youths to the criminal behaviors of their peers without offering protective measures.

On the other hand, Jacques defended the bill by stating that it aims to protect children from more severe future consequences by instilling a sense of responsibility early on. He argued that young people are aware of their actions and the potential to evade consequences, which could lead to more serious legal troubles as adults if not addressed promptly in their youth.

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