Stafford argues for second chance law

dev | 11/16/2011, 5:23 a.m.

Representative Cynthia Stafford (D-District 109) and State Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-District 18) are working in tandem on behalf of juvenile offenders and have filed legislation that is now awaiting committee assignment. The bill (SB 92) will inevitably go before the Committee on Criminal Justice and is referred to as the Second Chance for Children Act. Stafford, 44, says its the kind of law that is long overdue in Florida a state where far too many youth are being imprisoned under the terms of very long sentences. This is not a partisan issue its for children and makes sense since we all have someone in our families, a young person, who made a mistake and deserves a second chance, she said. The bill basically says that a youth who commits a crime and is sentenced to 10 or more years should have a chance when they are 25-years-old to go before the judge that sentenced them and either have that sentence reduced or be paroled. This is simply lining up with the U.S. Supreme Courts ruling last year in Graham vs. Florida the ruling was that a juvenile cannot be sentenced to life without a chance of parole for a non-homicidal crime. Stafford says she realizes that some youth have been on the wrong road for many years but does not see decades of prison as the solution. If you have a youth that is a habitual car thief or even a habitual drug user, locking them up for the rest of their life is not the answer, she said. We claim that we send people to prison with the intention of helping them to rehabilitate so that they might eventually become contributing members of society. This law would make that possible for many youth who have made mistakes. From a fiscal point of view the law also makes sense. Florida spends $6,200 to educate a child and $20,000 to imprison him or her. Anyone can do the math in this case. The bill was first introduced in the state Senate by the late Senator Jim King. Joyner sponsored it in 2010 and while it passed in the Senate, it failed in the House. Stafford says she is talking with her colleagues now and hopes that several of them will agree to co-sponsor the bill. Its important that this bill be assigned to committee so that we can move it forward when the new session begins in January, she added. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com