Juvenile & Mandatory Drug Sentencing

Executive Summary

This policy report explains the significance of rethinking our sentencing laws to reduce the number of incarcerated juveniles and reduce the rate at which juveniles indulge in offenses. Rethinking our juvenile sentencing laws will also be vital in dealing with racial disparities and reducing the overall number of juveniles in detention. The report highlights that the best way to achieve these goals is by rethinking Floridas sentencing laws when dealing with juveniles. Instead of subjecting juveniles to long sentences, this policy will provide for diverse options such as drug counseling, probation, and diversion. The report concludes that Florida should rethink its sentencing laws to overcome the existing problems relating to the high number of incarcerated juveniles and high rates of offense. The key recommendation discussed in the policy report is drug counseling programs that envisage a new approach to Floridas sentencing laws should be implemented immediately to help achieve these goals.

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Florida has had to deal with the rising number of juvenile prisoners and offenders. Racial disparities have also continued to skyrocket because of the unfair manner in which some juveniles found in possession of drugs are handled by law enforcers. It is undeniable to note that Floridas strict 10-20-Life policy has contributed to this state of affairs. However, goals relating to the reduction of juvenile offenders and prison would only be achieved in cases where we rethink our sentencing laws. This is especially because mandatory sentencing has been extremely harsh for juveniles as some of them are subjected to sentences of more than 25 years. Mandatory sentencing has not helped Florida deal with rising offenses among juveniles because most of them have continued to indulge in these offenses.

It is evident that the number of juvenile prisoners could only be reduced in cases where the sentencing approach is rethought to embrace issues that help juveniles stay away from offenses. Thus, they could be counseled and subjected to probation instead of sentencing them to many years in prison. The best way to achieve these goals is to put in place flexible sentencing laws that are not only aimed at victimizing juveniles. Moreover, it is crucial for Florida to be guided by the verdict of the Miller v. Alabama case where the Supreme Court emphasized that juveniles must be helped without necessarily sticking to mandatory drug sentencing that leads to high levels of incarceration and crime rates.

Florida needs to rethink its sentencing laws in order to reduce the number of incarcerated youth and ensure there is a reduction in juvenile crime rates. More so, this policy will help Florida to deal with racial disparities in terms of juvenile sentencing.

Pre-Existing Policies

One of the key pre-existing policies relating to juveniles and mandatory drug sentencing came into place courtesy of Boggs Act of 1952. In line with this policy, first time offenders found in possession of cannabis were to be subjected to a minimum sentence of 2 years with the maximum set of 10 years. Doyle opines that the policy did not exclude juveniles from this kind of sentencing. It provided for the punishment of any individual found in possession of cannabis. Apart from the long sentence, one was required to pay a fine of about $20,000 while serving his/her sentence. Looking at this policy, it is practically difficult for juveniles to raise this amount because they come from different backgrounds. Again, it was perceived harsh for first time offenders because there was a feeling that they should be given limited sentences and guided effectively to avoid indulging in similar offenses in the future.

Many states in the U.S. continued to embrace tough policies for both first time and repeat offenders with the aim of ensuring that all of them were punished for the possession of hard drugs. For instance, New York State embraced strict laws for all offenders found in the possession of any type of hard drug. Przybylski asserts that this policy came in place in 1973 and it went ahead to include not only those found in possession of cannabis, but also those in possession of hard drugs. The policy emphasized that anyone found in the possession of such drugs would be subjected to 15 years of imprisonment without any form of negotiation. Nevertheless, the policy faced many problems such as racial profiling and juvenile arrests that led to the overflow of prisons across the country. Again, the policy was not soft on juveniles because it emphasized the arrest and incarceration of everyone. This means that a lot of young people leaving in streets and abject poverty were arrested and incarcerated mercilessly. The policy did not consider other measures of dealing with these offenders. In fact, repeat offenders received severe punishments, as they were required to serve more than 25 years.

The Safety Valve that came into place in 1994 could also be described as a pre-existing policy because it relates directly to juveniles and mandatory drug sentencing. The Safety Valve appeared with the aim of ensuring that drug offenders are protected from harsh sentences. It found mandatory minimum sentencing harsh especially for juveniles. It aimed at alleviating everyone from the effects of mandatory drug sentencing. Thus, it affirmed that individuals should be given lenient sentences in cases where they only have one history of criminal offenses. More so, this policy suggested that mandatory sentences should be alleviated for individuals in instances where there is no incidence of death or injury. Possessing drugs does not translate to their usage. It provided that juveniles should be guided on matters relating to drug possession and usage. The offender should not be subjected to mandatory sentencing in instances where he did not participate in the organization or leadership of drug gangs in the region. Lastly, the policy reiterated that adequate evidence should be presented before any step could be taken to victimize drug offenders. This tended to give juveniles a sense of relief because it was aimed at reducing the severity of mandatory drug sentencing. It gave them breathing space.

Pre-existing policies provide an effective lesson for the establishment of a policy mechanism that would help in the realization of dreams relating to reduced juvenile prisoners and offender.

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Policy Options and Research

As noted earlier, this policy brief suggests that it would be vital for the State of Florida to rethink its sentencing laws. This is especially because existing sentencing laws have made it difficult for juvenile offenders to defend themselves. Mandatory drug sentencing has not been fair from the onset because it gives prosecutors more discretion in cases compared to that of judges. This makes it difficult for juveniles to defend themselves, and it has piled pressure on incarceration cells in the state. However, there are significant options to the success of the suggested policy.

The first option is to subject juveniles to drug counseling. It would be crucial to rethink our sentencing laws to embrace laws that focus on reforming juveniles rather than locking them up in cells. According to Lawrence and Lyons, drug counseling is a significant sentencing option that would play an instrumental role in achieving goals related to reduced number of incarcerated juveniles and reduced number of offenders. It is obvious that juveniles are still growing and need constant guidance on the way to live. Instead of subjecting them to mandatory drug sentencing, it would be appropriate to reform them through counseling. This would help in the reduction of juvenile offenses because they will understand that they need to adhere to the law. This should be done with the understanding that offenders come from different backgrounds and might have been influenced differently in their original backgrounds. Embracing this option would automatically lead to a reduction in the number of juvenile prisoners because they will be able to separate offenses from the abidance to the law. The State of Florida would have also achieved a reputation in terms of dealing with issues relating to racial disparities in its cells. Therefore, mandatory drug counseling would be a vital policy option to help the State of Florida achieve its goals and ensure it is helping juveniles reform and lead the required life.

The second policy option is the subjection of juveniles to probation rather than mandatory sentences. Rethinking sentencing laws means revamping the existing suppressive laws relating to the sentencing of juveniles. Research indicates that more than 15 states in the U.S. are still subjecting juveniles to this harsh and inhumane practice of mandatory drug sentencing. However, the subjection of juvenile offenders to probation is an effective policy option that would give the State of Florida the opportunity to deal with the high numbers of incarcerated juveniles. Welsh and Harris reiterate that the state will have a better opportunity of dealing with the existing racial disparities in instances where it puts in place probation activities for juvenile offenders. Courts in Florida should be empowered to order probation and require youth to work under specified rules that would ensure they fulfill all the required tasks. Some of the specific duties that juveniles should be subjected to under probation include regular school attendance, participation in drug counseling activities, and the performance of community service. This would arguably ensure that juveniles reform in the best way possible. The rate of offenses would decline as first time offenders would not dare engage in practices relating to drug possession. Therefore, it would be important to rethink our sentencing laws to include probation for juvenile offenders. This gives them the opportunity to understand their lives, hence, ensuring they make correct decisions before acting.

Lastly, we could rethink our sentencing laws to embrace diversion that would relieve juveniles form incarceration and ensure they behave in tandem with the existing drug laws. Juveniles could be allowed to comply with diversion offers without being forced to be charged in juvenile courts. This helps in the elimination of the intimidation they are likely to face in courts. This is an appropriate option to the policy of rethinking sentencing laws and ensures they act rationally toward juveniles. According to Stitt, diversion should be specifically applied for the first time offenders because it would give them the opportunity to understand that it is illegal to possess hard drugs at any given time. Diversion would be effective in preventing instances of repeat offenders because of the kind of reform it entails. The State of Florida would witness a reduction in the number of juvenile offenders as they gain more information relating to their offenses and any future consequences. This also ensures that they serve their designated punishments outside prison, hence, easing pressure on the available facilities. Overall, it is clear that the rate of offenses would be alleviated in cases where the State of Florida commits resources to this option.

Goals relating to the reduction of the number of incarcerated juveniles and reduced offenses among juveniles cannot be achieved overnight. There needs to be continued input in Floridas sentencing laws. Reforms should start immediately to ensure they accommodate alternative measures that would secure the future of juveniles instead of subjecting them to the oppressive mandatory sentencing. Favorable sentencing laws would ensure that judges and other criminal officers participate in helping juveniles grow into responsible individuals who are ready to work for the prosperity of the state. Drug-related crimes among juveniles cannot be easily handled with the existing sentencing laws that are offensive and inhumane to juveniles.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In summary, the State of Florida can achieve its goals by rethinking its sentencing laws. I believe that this would be the best step toward realizing reduced juvenile prisoners and offenses among juveniles. The State of Florida should be willing to change its strict mandatory sentencing law that requires individuals to stay in prison for a long time. Juveniles are future members of the society and should be handled with a lot of care to avoid any cases of losing future members. The possession of drugs should not be perceived as the end of their lives. It is vital to assist them to come up and overcome problems associated with the use of drugs and other offenses. This explains why the state should bend its sentencing laws to ensure juveniles access fair sentencing and live in the most appropriate manner as normal members of the state. It is worth acknowledging that pre-existing policies have been extremely harsh because they have ended up subjecting juveniles to untold misery and suffering in areas of incarceration. They were not efficient in dealing with the rising offenses among juveniles as they tended to focus on incarcerating juveniles and subjecting them to sentences that do not help in their reform.

It is clear that the State of Florida needs to embrace new mechanisms in its sentencing laws to ensure that juveniles are offered a second chance to prove themselves. There should be a keen understanding of the background of different juveniles to ensure that they are assisted in the best manner possible. The availability of flexible sentencing laws would give judges more discretion in cases and would ensure appropriate decisions that reflect the position of juveniles is held.

In the light of the existing challenges in the juvenile justice system, it is recommended that an effective training and counseling session should be embraced in sentencing to ensure juveniles are helped to deal with problems relating to drug possession and usage. Bonnie et al. opine that the adoption of juvenile training and counseling programs come out as the best option to help in the achievement of reduced juvenile prisoners and offenders in the State of Florida. These programs should be choreographed in the most effective manner to ensure they meet the existing needs of juvenile offenders. Again, they should be made compulsory for both first time and repeat offenders to ensure the behavior is wiped off completely among the youth. Training and counseling would automatically bestow some form of responsibility on juveniles and it would ensure that they are able to grow into responsible individuals who obey the law. The sentencing process should assign counselors to respective juvenile groups to ensure they are able to recover from their drug possession habits. This would be an effective step because it would ensure that they do not engage in the states crimes. Cells in Florida would witness a reduced number of offenders and would ensure that the behavior does not recover. Again, racial disparities would be alleviated because of the reduced juvenile offenses in the state. This would lead to the growth of the criminal justice aspect of Florida and would be beneficial for many years to come.