Saturday, November 07, 2009


"There are just over 100 people in the world serving life without possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles in which no one was killed. All of them are in the United States. 77 of them are in Florida."

Thus begins a NY Times article on the US Supreme Court's consideration of whether sentencing a juvenile to life in prison without parole is cruel and unusual punishment. The title links to the article.

What an absolute shame 77 of those children were sentenced by Florida Courts.

In the article a few local names are mentioned including retired Juvenile Justice Judge Tom Peterson and a special guest appearance by former Reno ASA Shay Bilchik who had this to say:

Shay Bilchik, who served as a state prosecutor in Miami from 1977 to 1993 and is now the director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown , said the state took a wrong turn.

We were pretty aggressive in those years in transferring kids into criminal court,” Mr. Bilchik said. “There was a feeling that we needed to protect our streets.”

He said later research convinced him that his office’s approach was much too aggressive and had not served to deter crime. “My biggest regret,” Mr. Bilchik said, “is that during the time I was in the prosecutor’s office, we were under the false impression that we were insuring greater public safety when we were not.”

Gee Shay, it's always nice when a prosecutor says "woops, I blew it." The problem is that your office's "approach" sent thousands of children to prison when the research on the development of the brains of teen-agers and their decision making abilities were already well known.

Well, better late than never.


Anonymous said...

Since you think you have all the answers Rumpole, what should happen to the 16 year old who commits an armed robbery and shoots his victim in the process? Oh, and this little "child" has priors for burglary, drugs and an aggravated battery. Yeah it's sad that kids like this - who are born into terrible circumstances - wind up warehoused in prison. But should the rest of society put up with violent 1/2-humans just so liberals like you don't wring your hands over the fate of these poor kids? Nah, I didn't think so. Warehousing these thugs is the lesser of the evils.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he should call Leon and Kathy
and give them some insight. The State still sends way too many kids to the adult system too early.

Right now I have two 17 year old
clients that were direct filed on
Burglary cases. The cases get to
felony and all the State wants is
a w/h, probation and restitution.
Couldn't that same resolution be
accomplished in juvenile without
ruining these kids lives forever
with adult records?

Now ofcourse everyone understands
direct filing the armed robberies
and murders, but why direct file
these crap burglary cases?

Rumpole said...

6:21- very simple actually- 1) appoint attorneys who have special training in juvenile justice. Go on the Georgetown website and see the work Bilchik is doing.

2) Send them to judges who have similar training.

3) Appoint doctors to give insights to the judge. Some of these kids are indeed sociopaths and society needs to be protected from them.

4) make the criteria for sentencing very specific. There should be enhances safeguards for sending children to prison.

Make parole available for every juvenile sentenced to more than 10 years. You tell me- is there a difference between a kid at 16 and a man at 32? Or 42? Or 52. If you are say 50 today, you were born in 1959. You were 20 in 1979. Lets say you did the crime you described in 1976 at age 17. Gerald Ford was president. Would you be entitled today to a review of your crime and your history in prison since then to see if you have changed?

The solution is not some namby pamby "they're just kids" bleeding heart probation. I recognize some teenagers commit horrific crimes. The solution is to remember that life means their is possibility to grow. Give them that chance.

Anonymous said...

Oh, by the way rump-hole, Reno was state attorney during the time that Bilchik was there. Nothing like that was done without her approval.

Anonymous said...

Once again, it seems impossible to have an intelligent conversation on this site without someone resorting to name calling. What a shame.

There actually is a much bigger issue than the debate about charging a young offender as a juvenile or an adult...........

Current sentencing practices are not working well. Nationally, recidivism within 3 years hovers is over 65% largely because most offenders have alcohol, drug and/or mental health issues that are resolved by a stint in jail or prison.

The fact is that we can't afford to continue incarcerating as many people for as long as we are incarcerating them. The truth is that there are effective alternatives/supplements to incarceration. I've never been accused of being soft on crime (my position on juveniles is a lot closer to 6:21's than Rump's), but I'd trade some jail/prison time for effective solutions that lower recidivism any day. Regardless, most offenders end up back in our communities having served no or little time in jail or prison. We need to do something with them or they'll come right back (as our frightenly high recidivism rate shows!).

Check out these sites, belonging to groups trying to improve things.......

http://www.collinscenter.org/event/justicesummit (a group that includes former Attorneys General and the former Secretary of Florida's DOC)

http://www.alcoholandcrime.org/ (a group founded by a former Miami prosecutor; Shea's not the only one who's come to believe that traditional approaches don't work for everyone).

(National Association of Drug Court Professionals)


Anonymous said...

PS----as for the juvenile system, you'd probably get a lot more sympathy if it actually worked. Unfortunately, it's a joke and everyone knows it.


old guy said...

The Florida Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on the life for juveniles issue this week.

Unfortunately, it was a recidivist juvenile who broke into an old woman's home, raped her, then beat her nearly to death before he took off.

I think I know why they took that case as the one to rule on.

Anonymous said...

When I represented Death Row inmates, there was not a single one I represented without a long and troubled juvenile background, broken home or mental health issues in the family.

I agree with Rumpole, LWOP for juveniles is an indication of OUR failure. We do not know how to address juveniles who may have serious violence and anti-social issues. That is what we need to learn to deal with. Locking them up, may "protect" us, but it does not prevent new children from emerging with these same violent tendencies. It is the violence that begets these children that we need to seriously examine, not what to with them once they've exploded, too late then.

We need to invest in our juveniles, yet Juvenile Court is the forgotten child of the Court system. Few Judges, except those few who are really committed to it, want to go there, the building is deplorable and filled with asbestos. A true indication of how we fail our juvenile "system" and then we complain because our juveniles fail us.

You don't get a return on your money if you don't invest, it's that simple for you hard nosed conservatives out there. Maybe expressing it in financial terms will help you understand. It is our failure because we have largely IGNORED the problem.

I'm signing this one.

Lucrecia Diaz Hudson

Anonymous said...

Bilcheck has a differnt opinion because he has a different employer. He will repeat the mantra of whoever is signing the checks.

If he really regreted his actions he would investigate any post conviction, clemency or pardon for all the kids he sent away.

Anonymous said...

what should happen to the kids who let a blaze that boy in Broward?

u 4 eva

Rumpole said...

U- I have no idea. It was a horrible act. Maybe some of them deserve life in prison or lengthy sentences. There aren't really standards for putting juveniles in prison for life, which is the point of my post. I do know this- every last one of them deserves a chance- not a guarantee- just a chance at redemption. Maybe that will happen in ten years- maybe it will happen in 30 and maybe it won't happen at all. But right now the system has no way of reviewing what a juvenile does with 20 years in prison.

Anonymous said...

Rumpole what you miss in your other wise cogent post is that often the options that exist today in this cracker republic we live in which provides few if any resources for any gov program, let alone, juvenile justice, the choices are as you so ably put it, "namby pamny probation" or warehousing kids.

call me cold hearted but when the choices are scuba school or a six months program run by people like phil davis, i think prison is a preferable alternative for habitually bad juvenile offenders

Anonymous said...

shay bilchik is in a long line of worthless bureacrats at the sao, his sucessor is none other than chester zerlin

Anonymous said...

Anyone who deals with DJJ regularly understands that its only concern is following procedure. Anytime DJJ has to choose between a live kid and bad paperwork and a dead kid and good paperwork, it is not even a close question. (A senior executive of DJJ actually told a group of providers that DJJ does not even consider recidivism or educational advancement when it ranks program performance.)
Since that system seems designed primarily to maintain employment for its thousands of admin hires and since large portions of upstate and rural Florida employment is funded by the juvenile and adult criminal system, there does not seem to be much hope that the system is unhappy with the current state of affairs.
Probably everyone knows that the male brain does not mature until 25. (How many 30 year old males or females of any age jump off bridges into rivers from 35 or 40 feet?)
Even those little monsters in Fort Lauderdale still have immature brains. The question remains whether or not we need to adjudicate and sentence them differently or whether or not we continue to use Leon's test of whether or not to direct file based upon whether or not he thinks that if not direct filed there is a five percent chance that the juvi will commit a crime that makes the newspaper above the fold on Local Page One. (Perhaps the law needs to be amended to provide that a judge other than the division judge, randomly selected, must concur with a state direct file decision would help here and a direct file division in criminal court like ROIC and Drug Court. If that were done, perhaps the kid would get some guidance as opposed to rolling the dice and neither getting a W/H or 30 years depending on whose division he falls in)
Finally, we should ask whether or not Florida really is smarter than everyone else in terms of sentencing. Until then, the prudent male fetus should elect to be born white in a two parent home because if not, no matter what DCF, DJJ, or his neighborhood does to him, it is just his problem and his life to be destroyed. Does anyone think that Rothstein has any chance at life for stealing $200 million in client funds? Compare that to a non-fatal or even non-injury armed robbery at a 7-11.

Anonymous said...

12:45 says: "shay bilchik is in a long line of worthless bureacrats at the sao, his sucessor is none other than chester zerlin"

Shay has spent his entire career trying to protect communities and improve the justice system. I don't agree with some of his politics or solutions, but I respect the hell out of his commitment. He's certainly not a "worthless bureaucrat." He could abandon public service and make truckloads of money with his connections. He hasn't done that. He and others like him deserve a lot better than the ridiculous name calling they receive on this blog.

I don't like many of the APDs or prosecutors, but thank God people like them (and I'm referring to the hard working ones, not the ones who retired in office) exist.

Regardless of where you stand, if you want to change things you need to do more than complain. Stop adding to the problems by name calling, insulting those you disagree with, throwing around overblown rhetoric, etc. Get off your tuchus and do something (you're either part of the solution or part of the problem........it really is that simple).


PS----8:34's comment is no better. I'd bet that there are very few people whom Shay prosecuted as juveniles sitting in prison as we speak. Shay's been gone a long time (17 years) and was an Administrator when he left. Regardless, Shay is trying to change a system.......by doing so he can have a FAR greater impact than he can by addressing individual cases. Questioning his sincerity like that is absurd. I'd bet the writer doesn't even know him.

Anonymous said...

Rump, What is your take on the Florida bar naming Scott Rothstein to a grievance committee on lawyer ethics?