As a 19year old Black male, my life prospects don’t look to bright- statistically speaking. My life span is 7.1 years shorter than any other cohort-group and I’m 5 times more likely to die of HIV/AIDS. That’s just health related. When it comes to education there is a 40% chance that I will drop out of high school. If I’
m lucky enough to make it out of high school, the chance of me going to jail is much higher than me going to college. Can my future get any bleaker? Well in the state of Florida it can.
A recent article published in my hometown newspaper, Sarasota Herald Tribune, exposed the stark disparities in sentencing for Black youth. 84% of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide offenses in Florida were African-American. When I read this startling statistic my eyes almost jumped out of my head. It’s not that I didn’
t believe it. The criminal justice system has historically been as fair to Blacks as Fox News is to reporting. What bothered me the most was that when I sat back and thought about it, I had not heard any policy makers in my home state address this issue head on.
We all know that Blacks make up a disproportionate number of inmates in prison, but why is this? Why is it that Black men are 12 times more likely than White men to be imprisoned on drug charges? Why is it that a Black male in Florida is facing a life sentence for a non-homicidal home invasion he committed when he was 17? The juvenile justice system was set up for rehabilitation and protection of children. Now legislatures and Americans treat the juvenile justice system as a way to “protect communities” from the very same juveniles we are supposed to be helping, not punishing. The criminal justice system’s goal is to punish the guilty, but this is what we are doing to juveniles. While I understand that juveniles are just as capable of committing heinous crimes as adults; why is it that Florida sees no hope for rehabilitation? Last Spring, the Florida legislature struck down a bill that would allow juvenile sentenced to life in non-homicidal cases a chance for parole. Many of the young folks that this decision affects are Black.
Instead of throwing every Black juvenile delinquent in prison for the rest of their life for committing a crime, why not give them the rehabilitation they need in a juvenile facility. For all the “fiscally conservative”
legislators out there who whine about the lack of solvency in the state budget, it would be a smart idea to reduce the population of our prisons. It costs more money to keep a child incarcerated than it does to send them to college. Why not implement community oriented programs to deter kids from committing crime?
In November, the Supreme Court will hear two cases regarding the life sentencing of juveniles. Both of those cases deal with two young men from Florida. Both young men are Black.