Brian Rooker of Jacksonville, FL, is the product of a juvenile justice system he calls a mockery, says the Florida Times-Union. Again and again, he was arrested and released with little guidance and minimal consequences. He became a truant, then a dropout, then a professional thief. Now 26, he’s serving a 10-year murder sentence. “If the juvenile system had been harsher, things might have turned out differently,” said Rooker’s mother, Debbie Brown.
At The Florida Times-Union’s request, Chief Circuit Judge Donald Moran unsealed hundreds of juvenile records of murder suspects from the last three years. More than half were first arrested as juveniles. They grew up to help produce a murder rate that, for seven straight years, has been the highest in Florida. “Our system is breeding homegrown terrorists. Our community’s in danger,” said Jacksonville Juvenile Court Judge A.C. Soud. Operating with about one-third the budget of the adult corrections system, the juvenile justice system often doesn’t have enough places to put delinquents or enough officers to follow up when they’re released. Some in the system say spending is misdirected, that politicians focus too much on incarceration rather than devoting resources to programs that can rehabilitate offenders or prevent at-risk youths from becoming criminals. Less than 10 percent of juvenile system’s budget goes toward prevention programs.