A 12-year-old Florida boy, who has been charged with killing his 17-month-old cousin with a wooden baseball bat, is the latest preteen who may face adult time with grown-up prisoners, reports the Miami Herald. The state’s juvenile justice system provides few other options. ”This type of case challenges all of us — prosecutors, public defenders and judges,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is defending the boy. Said Frank Orlando, a retired juvenile judge who heads the Center for the Study of Youth Policy at Nova Southeastern University’s law school: “This isn’t the last time this is going to happen. There are a number of states that have so advanced the issue of how you deal with these kids that it makes Florida look silly.”
If the 12-year-old is indicted as an adult, and convicted of first-degree murder, a judge may have no choice but to sentence him to life imprisonment. Another Broward youth, Lionel Tate, received such punishment until then-Gov. Jeb Bush commuted his sentence, partly in response to widespread condemnation. Dan Mears, who worked with delinquent youths in Texas, and now teaches criminology at Florida State University, said such cases are ”outliers,” and present far greater challenges to judges, prosecutors, and youth corrections administrators than most youthful crime. The public, Mears said, wants children who kill to have their lives “deep-sixed for a while — and it’s hard to generate sympathy. No matter how much the kid is a kid — no matter how much they can be rehabilitated — people want 10 or 15 years out of the kid’s life, maybe more.” Elsewhere, one program, sometimes referred to as blended sentencing, allows judges to send young offenders to juvenile camps to serve their sentence until juvenile court jurisdiction expires — at age 21 in Florida. Then, if the crime was particularly egregious, the offender can either serve additional time, or a long probation, in the adult corrections system.