The symposia featured the Public Broadcasting System's documentary, Stickup Kid, a case study of Alonza Thomas's interaction with the California criminal justice system from the age of 16, when he was sent to an adult prison for 13 years, and the aftermath of incarceration can be viewed HERE.
A panel of experts discussed various elements of the Stickup Kid documentary and issues relevant to Escambia County. The panel of experts consisted of:
- Dr. James Arruda, professor of psychology and associate dean for the College of Health. He teaches courses at the University of West Florida on cognitive neuroscience, biological psychology, sensation and perception, research methods, and behavioral statistics. Dr. Arruda is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. His research focus is on brain-behavior relationships.
- Ms. Kelly Merritt Richards has 32 years of legal experience, 28 years of which were serving the residents of the First Judicial Circuit that includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton counties. She currently works with defense teams on death penalty cases and preparing juvenile life resentencing cases.
- Mr. Frederick Gant is the principal lawyer in his Pensacola law firm. He received his law degree in 1984 from Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. Mr. Gant is also quite active in the local community. He is a founding member of both the 100 Black Men of Pensacola and the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity in Pensacola. He is a member of the Pensacola branch of the NAACP and the African American Chamber of Commerce. He has also held leadership positions in the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce and Howard University's Board of Trustees.
- Judge Terry David Terrell (retired) received his law degree from Florida State University in 1976. For 13 years he was the Chief Assistant Public Defender in the First Judicial Circuit. A certified criminal trial attorney, between 1979 and 1985 he represented all individuals charged with first degree murder. Most notably, he represented serial killer Ted Bundy when he was arrested in Pensacola. In March 1992, he was appointed to the bench by then Governor Lawton Chiles and subsequently won four re-election bids before retiring in December 2015. The Florida Supreme Court justices have appointed him to five entities intended to improve court procedures.
- Mr. Andrew Warren was elected State Attorney for Florida's Thirteenth Judicial Circuit serving Hillsborough County in November 2016. He is a former federal prosecutor having served in Tampa Bay, Florida, and Washington, D.C. In 2013, he received the Attorney General Award for Trial Litigation. Mr. Warren specialized in prosecuting complex white collar crime. A native of Gainesville, Florida, Mr. Warren earned his law degree from Columbia University Law School.
- Ms. Maya Rose Goldman, is the Southern Poverty Law Center's Outreach Paralegal operating out of the Tallahassee office. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago. Her work at the SPLC is focused on juvenile justice and criminal justice reforms, mostly focusing on public policy reforms. Before joining the SPLC, she worked for the U.S. branch of Human Rights Watch where her specialty was human rights abuses in the fields of criminal justice, sexual violence, and immigration.
All attendees received an information packet that included two analyses produced by the James Madison Institute (JMI), a free market think tank located in Tallahassee, Florida. While committed to free market and small government principles--for example, it supports the Trump administration's decision to scrap the Clean Power Plan--it is also concerned about criminal justice reform. Conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, having supported "tough on crime" legislation in the past, are now reconsidering whether mass incarceration of non-violent criminals is wise and just.
In the Spring of 2015, the JMI published a paper in its journal on "No Place for a Child: Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System." Deborah Brodsky argued that "Prosecuting children as adults has failed as an effective public policy. Instead of reducing crime, prosecuting a child as an adult produces crime by making youth more likely to commit crimes in the future." She noted that children, those aged 14 years and above, who were transferred from the juvenile to the adult criminal justice system, made youth offenders more violent, more likely to be rearrested, and, those who did not return to prison, had their chances for a successful life severely reduced due to "lifetime barriers to employment, education, housing, and even driving privileges." Not mentioned, is that a child convicted of a felony loses their voting privileges.
Brodsky marshalled data showing that the "majority of the children transferred to adult court were charged with non-violent offenses. Between 2008 and 2013, burglary accounted for
the single largest number of cases of youth transferred to adult court, making up almost a third of all cases. Property felonies in general made up almost 40 percent of all cases transferred." Moreover, almost 40% of the youths charged in adult courts were considered "low" or "moderate" risks to reoffend. And, youth in Florida were subject to the vagaries of where they lived when charged. No two judicial circuits had the same criteria and practices.
In February 2016, the James Madison Institute issued a Policy Brief, "No Place for A Child: Direct File of Juveniles Comes at a High Cost" by Deborrah Brodsky and Sal Nuzzo. They argued that keeping children in the Department of Juvenile Justice system versus the Florida Department of Corrections through "direct file" reform would save Florida taxpayers nearly $13 million over the next ten years. Florida's "direct file" system--a law that allows a State Attorney to file adult criminal charges against a youth 14 or older without any oversight or intervention by a judge--is based on the myths that the children are "super predators" or otherwise violent criminals committing "heinous" crimes and that these youth criminals are being sent to adult prisons.
Brodsky and Nuzzo produced data showing that "more than 70 percent of children convicted in adult court are sentenced to probation" primarily for committing "non-violent felony offenses, primarily property and drug crimes, or misdemeanors." And, they noted that "many children prosecuted as adults eventually go to prison because the adult system sets children up to fail, not because they were originally more likely to offend."
According to Brodsky and Nuzzo, "Florida currently has the highest number of adult transfers reported of any state" in the country. Since 2009, over 12,000 children were tried as adults in Florida, 98% the result of "direct filing" by the State Attorney.
The Southern Poverty Law Center also provided a fact sheet focusing on Florida and Escambia County (pdf not available). The SPLC noted that since "2008, more than 13,000 children--some as young as 8 years old--have been prosecuted as adults in Florida." In 2015-2016, 1,200 children were prosecuted as adults. Almost all these children were sent into the adult criminal system through "direct file" by the State Attorney. According to a 2016 survey, "62% of Floridians believe judges--not prosecutors--should decide whether to prosecute a child as an adult."
In Escambia County, according to 2015-2016 data presented by the SPLC, of the state's 1,236 children transferred to adult court, 86 were done in Escambia County. Only 2 counties had more children tried as adults--Hillsborough with 129 and Dade with 109--though they have much larger populations. Escambia County's 13.4 school arrests per 1,000 students is more than twice the Florida average of 5.6, and around 12 times higher than Miami-Dade's rate of 1.71 per 1,000 students.
In Escambia County there is also a racial imbalance in school children arrests. Just under 32% of the students aged 10 to 17 are Black, but they account for 68% of the children arrested and 76% of the children direct filed to the adult court. The SPLC pointed out that of "the 251 school-related arrests in Escambia County School District 68% of arrests were for misdemeanor offenses. While the school system's population is only 35% black, 77% of students arrested that year were black."
VIDEOS OF PRESENTATION AND QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
The following videos are in order of presentation. The only videos not presented are the biographical introductions by Pensacola News Journal's executive editor Lisa Nellessen-Lara who also moderated the Q&A session.
INTRODUCTION: DR PAULA MONTGOMERY
DR ARRUDA PRESENTATION
MS RICHARDS PRESENTATION
MR GANT PRESENTATION
JUDGE TERRELL PRESENTATION
MR WARREN PRESENTATION
MS GOLDMAN PRESENTATION
JUDGE TERRELL COMMENT
Q&A FATE OF ALONZA THOMAS IF TRIED AS JUVENILE
Q&A CAN CHILD MAKE UP LOST PRISON TIME?
Q&A DR ARRUDA ON LOST TIME
Q&A RETRIBUTION VS RESTORATIVE JUSTICE
Q&A RESOURCES AFTER PRISON
Q&A MEDICATION EFFECTS ON COGNITION
Q&A CHANGING POLICIES IN HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY
Q&A USE OF A FIREARM BY CHILD, HOW TREATED
Q&A JUVENILE VS ADULT PRISON RESOURCES
Q&A PRIVATE PRISON EFFECTS ON JUSTICE
Q&A PRIVATE PRISONS CONTINUED
Q&A ROUND ROBIN QUESTIONS, CLOSING STATEMENT