Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Catching young criminals before they are lost

The first child up on the afternoon docket is all of 12, with long eyelashes and traces of baby fat. "Nine, 10, 11 …" says Hillsborough Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan, adding up not his age but the charges against him.

She peers down: How did this kid, not yet a teenager, even know how to drive?

"My grandfather," the boy says, though surely grand theft auto was not what the grandfather had in mind. A burly Department of Juvenile Justice officer reaches to straighten the collar of the boy's jail uniform. It's tan, a color that means he hasn't been swallowed by the adult system, at least not yet.

On this same day, we woke to find the face of another kid staring out from the front page. Nick Lindsey, 16, is accused of gunning down St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford during a routine call about a prowler. It's hard to grasp the utter waste of a good cop's life, and the life of a teenager thrown away. In the photo, the boy looks too young and very old.

Lindsey traveled this same juvenile justice system, with some defendants so small they roll up their jail pants so they don't trip as they shuffle along, chained hand and foot. Judge Sheehan has been assigned here only 31/2 weeks, but already she's seen what's frustrated Florida's juvenile judges for decades.

Children who don't pass middle school math but expertly tally points on their criminal score sheets and predict the date they'll be back on the street. Parents who won't show without the threat of criminal contempt. A system that hasn't figured out how to intervene with equal parts support and discipline when these defendants are still young enough to reach. A do-less-with-more economy in a system already stretched past its limits.

The public defender wants the boy sent home. The mother, just out of jail herself, says there's no place for his "sticky fingers." The boy says he just wants to see his younger sister again. The judge opts for a live-in program. She asks that the sister be allowed to visit.

"Someone needs to grab ahold of you and get you moving in the right direction," she tells him. "Hopefully, someday you'll be 18 and say, 'Wow, I was a stupid young kid then.' "

Here's the question you'll hear: Why bother?

If saving a kid isn't enough, well, there's public safety. There's stopping petty crimes from becoming violent ones. There's the fact that housing just one of the 36,992 inmates sent to prison last year costs us an average of $19,469 a year.

The last person on her docket this day is 17. Like Nick Lindsey, he had not been charged with violence before this, before the gun.

With Lindsey, it was stealing cars. This teenager repeatedly trespassed and got in minor scrapes — until January, when police say he and a friend walked up to a man, put a gun to his head and robbed him.

This time, he wears fluorescent orange and the words Hillsborough County Jail stamped across his back, the color of the big time. Next stop: adult court and the very real possibility of state prison. The street tough is gone. He looks miserable. He looks young.

"I don't know who's to blame here," the judge says. The system for not stepping in sooner? The boy for failing himself? There is enough to go around.

"Good luck to you," she says, because what else is there, and the bailiff takes him away.

Catching young criminals before they are lost 02/24/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2011 10:54am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  2. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin


    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    Minnesota Twins pitching coach Neil Allen jogs back to the dugout after paying starting pitcher Tyler Duffey a visit on the mound in the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
  4. Swan sculpture deputies say was stolen by naked man found near Lakeland pond


    A $25,000 swan sculpture that Polk County sheriff's deputies say was stolen by a naked man last weekend was found near a pond in Lakeland on Thursday.

    A swan sculpture that was stolen in Lakeland on May 19 was recovered by the Polk Sheriff’s Office on Friday.
  5. Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back


    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally