Florida Mother Asks Why We Pull Out the Adult Card For Crimes

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Florida: emotional Image of a beautiful woman of color

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“Mom, I’m losing myself.”  

“Mom, do you know what it feels like to hardly remember your life at home?” 

“Mom, I haven’t seen or felt sunlight for weeks.” 

My daughter Taylor has been raised in adult jails and prisons since she was 15. She is now 19 and it will be another six years before she can come home. At that point, as she navigates being an adult in a world she’s never known, she’ll carry the burden of probation until she’s 35.

Florida: Kim Lawrance (headshot), Florida juvenile justice reform advocate, smiling freckled blonde woman wearing necklace.

Kim Lawrance

She has been labeled a felon for life. Like other kids in adult jails and prisons, she has spent months in isolation to protect her from the very adults she is deemed by law to be on par with. She shows signs of PTSD, and I can only advocate for her from the sidelines. 

How did she get there? Yes, she broke the law and she did need to be held accountable. However, the prosecutor decided that she should be tried as an adult. There was no input from a judge, no evaluations and no interviews with teachers or jail staff. Instead, my 15-year-old was woken up in the middle of the night, re-booked, given a different color uniform and told she was now an adult. Rather than a system intended to rehabilitate at-risk kids, she was sent to a system designed to punish adults. And there was nothing anyone could do to change what the prosecutor set into motion. No possibility to even try to appeal. 

What if this was your son or daughter? I didn’t think this could happen to me, but it can absolutely happen to anyone. There are kids in prisons who come from families of all walks of life. Especially in Florida, where nearly 1,000 juveniles are prosecuted as adults each year — more than California, Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan combined. Nearly all of these kids are sent directly to the adult system by prosecutors, with no evaluation or judicial review.  

Taylor was a straight-A student and a competitive cheerleader. She had just finished the ninth grade. She had never been arrested before. Now she’s a statistic. She and four other kids made the mistake of a lifetime. I say mistake because at 15, that’s what it was.

It is a fact, not an opinion, that a teenager’s brain is not fully developed to weigh risks and consequences. It’s why they do stupid stuff. That’s why we don’t allow children to vote, serve on juries, enter a legal contract or join the military. So why do we pull out the adult card for crimes? Teens will age out of crime. Let’s offer help through services, not ruin their future with punishment.

Single prosecutor shouldn’t decide

Prison is not a solution, especially for kids. In adult prisons, there are no resources to meet the growing psychological needs of children or to protect them from the trauma of solitary confinement. They are at a higher risk for sexual abuse and they are 36 times as likely to die of suicide than their peers in juvenile facilities.

What many forget is that these kids do eventually come back to society. After being locked up with adults, they are 30% more likely to reoffend. Growing up in prison exposes them to worse alternatives.

What do you think they are learning in prisons?  Sending a child to prison replaces the most important social bond, the family, with an institution, destroying their emotional well-being. Adult charges label them for life, making future opportunities such as jobs and housing difficult. What do we expect the outcome to be? Don’t we want them to be better people?

We must take adult prosecution of our youth more seriously. This session, Florida legislators failed to include comprehensive criminal justice reform for our kids, particularly the ability to have a judge review decisions to prosecute them as adults. We cannot continue leaving these life-changing decisions to a single prosecutor with no avenue to appeal, and legislators must understand that Floridians deserve better justice.

My daughter and every child deserves to be more than just a statistic.

Kim Lawrence is a Florida juvenile justice reform advocate and mother of a directly impacted teenager.

7 thoughts on “Florida Mother Asks Why We Pull Out the Adult Card For Crimes

  1. The Prison systems should not be raising our children ,We should be. Their parents,grandparents. Family members. I haven’t read the what their crimes were ,but there is a reason why we have Juvenile , An Adult. There children become throw aways. No one trying to help them, giving them a shoulder to cry on. An ear to listen. One moment can change their lives forever, the justice system is now playing God. Taking children with lies , or We know for absolute sure these children are taking for cash. So your not alone if its the Juvenile system working against the children. I lost 3 grandchildren ,or my daughter did at the age of 33. No court order,no warrant. Just an unlicensed Bias Social worker . I as a woman ,along with my daughter , and my only granddaughter . We were treated as if we were a joke. A judge who was being watched ,maybe he knew ,and he was throwing it back in Gov. Bakers face. Judge Corvette . I had somehow fell into their investigations into Judges who were suspect to corruption. So it took my 4 hours to read,but i praye before i read,and i could understand . When I was one reading it ,there was one rule the judges must follow. It is the one that i can remember,i guess because the judge who did the 72 hours. That wasn’t much. He had his what they all thought as their strong woman out there terrorizing all the innocent mom’s. Their faces remain in my soul ,and God I pitty them. I know God will show his wrath to the one ,At Hingham court. She actually prayed with me. Talking about Mocking God. I said this to her ,and i know it wasn’t true. Although a part of it is. She was working at the fake Kangaroo court. I pray Go let her see this. I found it. You will be held accountable,As you wrapped your arms around me,and prayed in my ear. So many words were not in the language of our people. Of our Preachers. I can imagine what she said to me. You know what i just remembered it was ugly. I said to her , God might to reach out to all while you are falling . Thats when she got up and did that. I sai i know God will forgive any one. When they sit and really pray for forgivness,when they have time to say What we need to believe in. looked at her as if she woul be desperate ,begging for eternal life. What did she do to me,well Go i pray to take it away. I am thinking of her evil face ,crush her lord God p-lease

  2. 0.35% of those incarcerated in adult prisons are under 18. p 23

    the vast majority are 17 years old and have been convicted of felony crimes – 95%, pages 17-19

    only 2% of those juveniles certified as adults are incarcerated, in California, which has the most detailed records

    all from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/232434.pdf

  3. Kim, my son also, at the age of 13, was charged and then sentenced as an adult by a prosecuting attorney because “he could” he has now been “raised” in jails and prisons. He’s safer “in” than “out”! I’m so sorry about your precious daughter! Our justice system is so very broken and the people charging and sentencing our children are corrupt! Somehow, i pray we can see some reason for this awful nightmare!

  4. Kim, as always this is well written. I don’t understand the sentence handed out to our 18 to 25 year olds, the idea of our system not even flinching when sending children to the hell Florida likes to call correctional facilities is something I will never comprehend. Praying for you and Taylor

  5. So well written. Thank you for you perspective as always. One day our dreams of helping kids have a future will come true.