The word inscrutable should not be used lightly. It is precisely the right word to use when trying to comprehend why state Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, has all but killed the Second Chance Act for Children in Prison during this legislative session. Snyder, a former Stuart police officer, has the power to block bills as chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council. While the bill sailed through a Senate committee and narrowly passed a House committee, Snyder has shut the door on its progress, and on many rehabilitated young people it could help.
Crafted by a Florida State University law professor and some of his students, House Bill 757 was intended to bring fairness, common sense and compassion to a system that can be unwise and unnecessarily harsh to children.
The bill would allow inmates who were 15 or younger and sentenced to at least 10 years in prison without parole to be considered for release after eight years. Further, they must have been model prisoners for at least two years and participate in a two-year re-entry program to become productive members of society. Currently, Florida has about 300 Florida inmates who were sentenced to life or long sentences when they were 15 or younger. All would not be eligible for Second Chance.
But many inmates, such as Kenneth Young, would be eligible. Now 24, Young was 14 when he went along for the ride in a Tampa Bay area robbery rampage in June 2000. His role was to grab the money while his 25-year-old mentor, a crack dealer with a rap sheet, held a gun on hotel and store clerks. The gun was never fired. At trial, Young was given the same life sentence as the adult.
Even the judge, J. Rodgers Padgett, who sentenced Young, wishes that he could go back and change the sentence. He told the St. Petersburg Times that he would support parole consideration for Young. Although Young has been a model prisoner and meets all the criteria of the bill, he will have to stay in prison.
Snyder is not willing to give his colleagues a chance to hear the bill, saying he is not "willing to take a chance with the security of Floridians." It shouldn't be up to just one lawmaker. House leaders, so far, have stayed on the sidelines. In the interest of justice, they shouldn't anymore.