Public Defender on life without parole for juvenile offenders

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On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether juveniles should be imprisoned for life without parole in cases where there was no homicide. Today, Pinellas County Public Defender Bob Dillinger called such sentencing severe.

The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club met at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club this morning. Dillinger said the Supreme Court will have a narrow decision on whether or not sentencing juveniles for life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment.

Dillinger spoke about his experience with convicted juveniles which leads him to oppose life sentences without parole for juvenile criminals.

The public defender’s office has been particularly successful in curbing the re-arrest rate of past offenders through their program. In Pinellas County, it has improved by 2% according to a recent audit.

There are 3,500 children in the foster care program in Pinellas and Pasco County. Dillinger emphasized a special concern for their welfare.

One way to prevent juveniles from developing into criminals is to ensure that they receive proper education, and deal with important family issues prior to the 1st grade.

In Florida, nearly 3600 juveniles were transferred to adult court during the 2007-2008 fiscal year. The number in Pinellas has nearly doubled in the last four years. Dillinger said that treating juveniles as adults can increase their likelihood of becoming repeat offenders.

The Supreme Court will decide the juvenile sentencing cases, Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida within the next year.