Should juvenile age be raised in Florida criminal justice system?

Stetson Law Judith Scully

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Should an 18-year-old convicted of a serious crime have to serve a sentence like life in prison or should the juvenile age be increased in the Florida criminal justice system? We’ll talk about this topic with the wife of a person convicted of a crime at 18 and with a legal expert. The juvenile age in the Florida criminal justice system has a cut-off of 18 years.

One guest, Judith Scully, is a professor at Stetson University College of Law. Professor Scully co-coordinates the Social Justice Advocacy Program, pro bono program and directs the Innocence Initiative at Stetson law. She oversees the Street Law program which educates middle school students in Pinellas County about their legal rights and how to avoid the school-to-prison pipeline.


We talked about how someone would be sentenced differently if she is convicted of a serious crime at age 18 compared with 17-and-a-half, for example.

WMNF’s MidPoont got a letter from an inmate at Hardee Correctional Institute in Bowling Green, Florida. His name is Matthew. Here’s part of what he wrote: “There are a lot of us who caught life sentences between the ages of 18 and 21 and have essentially grown up in prison. Modern brain science has concluded that there is really no difference in brain maturation between a 17 year old and a 20 year old, but the level of culpability and punishment Florida appends to the 18 year old as opposed to [someone who is one day younger than 18] is shameful.”

Matthew cited a case where an appellate court in Illinois raised the age to 19 based on brain science.

You might hear the counter-argument that for the purposes of military service or voting, we consider 18-year-olds to have the responsibilities of adults. Though we can also look at a move that Florida made in the 1980s, increasing the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. Presumably that happened because the Legislature decided that 18-year-olds were not as good at making the adult decisions about alcohol that a 21-year old could; should that also apply to the juvenile age in the criminal justice system?

We also expanded the topic to look at the question of  what about when people under 18 are charged as an adult. How is that decision made? And are there check and balances. Should it happen at all?

Another guest who joined us by phone was Renee Graves. Her husband, Charles, was convicted of a crime when he was 18 years old.

A new investigation by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune found sentencing disparities based on race. For example:

“In Manatee County, judges sentence whites convicted of felony drug possession to an average of five months behind bars. They give blacks with identical charges and records more than a year.

“… blacks spend far longer behind bars. There is no consistency between judges in Tallahassee and those in Sarasota. / The war on drugs exacerbates racial disparities. Police target poor black neighborhoods, funneling more minorities into the system. Once in court, judges are tougher on black drug offenders every step of the way. Nearly half the counties in Florida sentence blacks convicted of felony drug possession to more than double the time of whites, even when their backgrounds are the same.”

Watch the show here:

At the beginning of the show we heard a listener comment after our last show. Our guests had been from the Sierra Club. They talked about St. Petersburg’s goal of 100% renewable energy.


  • Gina T

    Should the age be raised? To what? 20? 25? 30? You will always find someone who will find some reason why someone doesn’t deserve a life sentence.
    No. The age should not be raised.
    Teens who are 14, 15, 16 etc know right from wrong. Sentencing for crimes should be based on a lot of factors, not just age. If anyone thinks these guys are just kids, read the letter from the well-spoken, obviously very intelligent Matthew, an inmate.
    Listening to Sean Kinane’s show, it sounds like Ms. Scully’s grievance is more with the way the penal system is run. It needs far more resources, a focus not on punishment but on rehab, education, mental health services, medical care services, job training and it needs to be implemented by the state. We shoudl undo the stupid idea of putting prisons in private hands. But give a pass to someone just because he or she is young? No way. Our society needs to be protected because some horrific crimes have been committed by some very young people. And protecting society needs to be paramount. I don’t care how much brain science Ms. Scully cites. Has Ms. Scully ever been a crime victim?

  • Doug

    What a stupid stupid question!! No it should not be raised, you rape, you kill you are worthless POS and deserve everything bad coming your way. Just today in Pasco two 16 year olds were picked up for shooting a young mother in the face and killing her in front of her 5 year old with a stolen gun, You think those assholes deserve a light sentence? They have a criminal record as long as your arm but were still free and why was that? Because Idiots like you who think they should be treated like kids

  • Renee Graves

    The discussion was not should we raise the age and let juveniles away with crime? When a crime is committed, there needs to be a consequence whether it be drug treatment, prison sentence, mental health treatment, etc. A survey was done by The Alliance for Safety and Justice across the US. They found more victims would rather see rehabilitation by the criminal justice system than punishment and more investment in communities and education. Victims would prefer holding people accountable beyond prison sentences; these results were from victims themselves. When there is a prison sentence for a young adult, instead of locking them up and throwing away the key, why not provide education and rehabilitation to deal with why they committed that crime, what happened in their life to make them desensitized? When someone turns 18, they do not automatically overcome the barriers they were facing the day before when they were 17.
    Again, there should be consequences and if there were a judicial review set up every 15 years, 25 years and the judge would review an individual’s prison file and psychiatric review they would be able to tell if someone has been rehabilitated by their behavior in prison. If they continue a violent destructive path, no they shouldn’t be released but if someone has been rehabilitated and has walked on the straight and narrow, why shouldn’t they be given a 2nd chance if they made a mistake as a kid/young adult and got caught in something they shouldn’t have. These men and women that have been rehabilitated can be mentors to other troubled teens and proof that kind of lifestyle is not worth living.
    I can not stress enough that this is not about letting criminals get away because of age.

  • Lcagee

    I think any kid under the age of 21 should be given great lieniency. In fact, if we modeled our justice system after the German system, we would all be better off.

    • Colin Jones

      Throughout Europe they have much gentler prisons, no capital punishment, no mandatory minimums (for the most part), higher juvenile court ages (up to 25 in some places), and they have a lower crime and recidivism rate than here in the US. Tough on crime which has been going strong in the US for decades has only caused more problems and it is extremely expensive. I hope that this raise the age will be adopted in the coming years.

  • Lcagee

    CJ you’re a smart kid. You should consider politics (seriously!)