Juvenile offenders must be given second chances

admin | 11/23/2011, 5:48 a.m.

If you have children or are involved with children in any way, you know that they are prone to make mistakes. But we all make mistakes no matter what our age. Most of us are fortunate in that we have an opportunity to learn from those errors, to mature by trial and error and to dust ourselves off and try again. But here in Florida, juvenile offenders are not given second chances. For their deeds, they are rewarded by being strapped with draconian-like sentences, locked away with older, hardened criminals and bogged down with a felony record that locks them out of ever achieving a semblance of the so-called American Dream. Thats why we applaud the efforts of first-time State Representative Cynthia Stafford who, along with State Senator Arthenia Joyner, is working day and night to push through their Second Chance Act a piece of legislation that would positively impact young offenders. Stafford laments the fact that youth are being imprisoned under the terms of very long sentences. Stafford and Joyner will need the support of their colleagues in the House and Senate in order to push this legislation through. Stafford suggests that the bill is not about partisanship but is instead just common sense. We agree with her if for no other reason than one of fiscal responsibility. When our business-minded governor took over in Florida, he quietly included in his budget a provision that allowed for the doling out of 29 prisons and correctional institutions in 18 South Florida counties to be taken over by private contractors. The Legislation is appealing this move. Meanwhile, Florida now has seven private prisons each is a profit-making venture. Nationwide, incarceration rates have been declining since 2007. But here in the Sunshine State our rate continues to climb only Texas has a higher incarceration rate. As for rehabilitation, that appears to be non-existence. Regardless of the nature of ones crime, those who are sentenced must serve 85 percent of their sentence. What this means is we have a system that wants to keep people, even young adults, locked up for a very long time. It may be costly to taxpayers but private investors are raking in huge dividends. In the end it means more misery for those who deserve a chance to get their lives back on track. And the majority of those whose lives are changed forever with little or no opportunity for ever being able to stand on their own two feet are Black. We must demand change.