Recent reports from law enforcement agencies allege that juveniles are at the heart of a crime wave that includes burglaries and robberies. Some of the accused juveniles have been arrested dozens of times.
In Fort Lauderdale, a police department crime analysis shows that a small group of teens — just 50 youths; some as young as 13 — were charged with almost 700 crimes last year. They accounted for more than half of all the juvenile arrests in the city.
Fort Lauderdale is not alone. Prosecutors in Palm Beach County were recently surprised when a youth who faced more than a dozen burglary and property crime charges was sentenced to about six months in a state residential treatment facility.
The concern comes even though Florida has long had a get-tough reputation on juvenile offenders. The state has come under intense criticism for incarcerating high numbers of youths and doling out more life sentences to juveniles for non-murder cases than all other states combined.
Regardless, prosecutors in Broward and Palm Beach counties say teens who commit property crime usually are sentenced to probation. At most, they are sent to a residential treatment facility for about six months. Juveniles also cannot be held for more than 21 days while awaiting trial regardless of the charges or their history and then have limited state supervision.
Make no mistake about it, though. Florida is a tough state when it comes to juvenile crime. Florida direct files - or sends juvenile cases to adult court - more than any other state in the nation.
And all juvenile cases are handled in Circuit Court before Circuit Court judges. A juvenile can risk a permanent criminal record, probation, or even incarceration in a juvenile facility.