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Young Mulligan Law a fix for kids being stupid

There is this saying: Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.

And another: Even a broken cuckoo clock is right twice a day.

To which we could add the less catchy but still meaningful: Even with the shortsightedness and political posturing that tends to surround talk of kids who commit crimes, maybe we got this one right.

Changes in state law, along with similar forward-thinking efforts already in place across Florida in cop shops including the St. Petersburg police and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, are a common-sense approach to our youngest first-time offenders.

It's simple, really: Kids who do something misdemeanor-level stupid don't likely face arrest or an arrest record.

Call it the Young Mulligan Law.

The Give-A-Kid-A-Chance Rule.

And it could also save a lot of money, given that we're talking thousands of kids a year, if you like practical results along with the potential for human ones.

So a kid who gets caught, say, drinking beer, shoving another kid or shoplifting won't automatically be arrested. People who work in our juvenile-justice system will tell you once a kid falls in, it can be hard to get him out, that it's a slippery slope once he starts seeing himself as a criminal.

So instead of handcuffs and a ride in a police car, a first-time kid-being-stupid is looking at things like community service, counseling and the wrath of parents, though parents sometimes have something to do with how we got here in the first place.

Best case: He's scared straight and never to be seen again in the juvenile system. Or in adult court.

How remarkably sensible, particularly if you were here in the '90s, back when J.J. Revear was still a little kid getting arrested again and again, long before he died of a gunshot wound outside a bar at 28. We heard stories of rampant car thieves and gun-toting robbers not old enough to shave thumbing their noses at us, these savvy young criminals who knew exactly when their feet would again hit the street. Politicians beat their chests and talked tough and got tough.

But this current effort isn't about the lost ones. It's about the ones that might not be. Research in Hillsborough, where a first-time offender program is getting up to speed countywide, showed 70 percent of juvenile arrests were largely for non-violent misdemeanors.

A caveat to our Young Mulligan Law: It has to be applied evenly. A private-school kid caught with a beer has to equal an a urban-school kid caught with a beer.

I once spent some time watching our innovative juvenile drug court, where first-timers with drug-related charges could get them dropped if they successfully made it through a program. The best moment was always graduation, with the latest batch of young offenders watching in the courtroom looking scared or even stoned. There were diplomas, applause, tears. It made you think for at least some of them, a bad turn maybe got straightened out.

No one wants to be seen as soft on crime, not police nor prosecutors and especially not politicians. Hard-core plays better with voters, lock 'em up and throw away the key, bury them under the jail, with no thought to costs, literal or otherwise.

But this makes sense. This could save money and maybe a kid or two. Headline: Blind squirrel finds nut.

Young Mulligan Law a fix for kids being stupid 06/14/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 9:15pm]

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