Thursday, May 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Special court for juveniles worth a chance

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ralph Stoddard's proposal for a specialized court to hear serious juvenile cases is a commendable idea worth pursuing. Not every case is appropriate for juvenile sanctions — and not every child will appreciate the opportunity to turn his life around. But Hillsborough County, which sends more juveniles to adult court than some larger jurisdictions, should look for ways to end a cycle that all but ensures some youthful offenders will spend their lives in and out of the criminal justice system.

The judge's proposal is a thoughtful, timely response to a distinctly local problem. Even in a state where the courts are tough on children, Hillsborough stands out by having more juvenile defendants charged as adults than in any other jurisdiction in Florida. According to the state's juvenile justice agency, prosecutors filed adult-level charges against child defendants in Hillsborough 234 times in the last fiscal year, more than in the judicial circuits that cover larger cities, including Miami (208) and Jacksonville (126).

Tampa's population has a higher percentage than statewide of residents under age 18, but that does not fully explain the higher number of children prosecuted as adults. As Stoddard told the Tampa Bay Times' Peter Jamison: "Either we really do have the worst kids in the state, or they're not being treated fairly." Either way, the judge is right: The issue has to be addressed. Creating a single court to handle these cases would bring some consistency to the prosecution and sentencing. While state law gives prosecutors the discretion to move youthful offenders into the adult system, a consolidated court to handle these cases would bring greater focus to diversionary programs. Some youthful offenders could find the structure they need to continue pursuing an education or career that a prison record might otherwise doom.

Specialized courts aren't the answer in every case, but they can bring a level of expertise and efficiency to the criminal justice system. In Hillsborough, special courts for family matters and drug offenses have brought more holistic strategies for addressing domestic violence, delinquency and substance abuse. Stoddard's proposal would still leave the range of existing sanctions on the table; children still could be tried as adults and face harsher punishment. The difference with a unified court is that every case would get a new level of scrutiny.

Chief Judge Manuel Menendez Jr., who will make the decision, should give the idea a chance. The circuit has nothing to lose by exploring whether this approach would make for a fairer, more effective criminal justice system. At the very least, a consolidated court would give the circuit a better sense of why so many youthful offenders are being charged as adults.

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Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

Editorial: Trump right to cancel North Korea talks on nuclear weapons

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Editorial: Banks still need watching after easing Dodd-Frank rules

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Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

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Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
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Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

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Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

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Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
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Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18