NAACP, SPLC Urges County Leaders Not to Put Kids in Adult Jails
Florida lawmakers passed a law this summer allowing county commissions to place children charged as juveniles in
adult jails.
Reporter: Southern Poverty Law Center Release

TAMPA, Fla. – September 22, 2011

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and NAACP along with parents, community advocates and church
leaders urged county officials from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota counties today, not to house children
in county-run adult jails. The coalition also presented officials with thousands of petitions from their local residents
as well as from people across the country.

Florida lawmakers passed a law this summer allowing county commissions to place children charged as juveniles in
adult jails. It removed key aspects of the law that provided different standards and protections to meet the unique
needs of children. Members of the coalition called on county leaders from the four counties to show leadership in
rejecting the new law.

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“County Commissioners have the power to keep children out of adult jails and from experiencing unnecessary
dangers these facilities pose to children,” said Christine Henderson, Co-Director of the SPLC’s Florida Youth
Initiative. “We stand with the communities today and say NO to undoing forty years of juvenile standards. We call
upon the leaders of these counties to refuse to warehouse children in adult jails – exposing them to terrifying

Joining Henderson at today’s press conference were Pastor Moses Brown, founder of Tampa-based Feed the
Children and a member of Pastors on Patrol; Michelle Knight, a Pinellas county mother whose children were placed
in adult jails as juveniles; and Debra Anderson a member of the local chapter of the NAACP and a former juvenile
probation officer from Sarasota county.

“It’s appalling that some leaders across the state feel free to cut corners without regard to children’s lives,” said
Pastor Brown. “County leaders must have the courage to say ‘our kids are worth the effort’ and refuse to cut corners
when precious lives are at stake.”

National research shows that children held in adult jails are twice as likely to suffer assault, abuse, and even death
as children held in juvenile facilities. More than forty years ago, Florida established the Department of Juvenile
Justice (DJJ). This came on the heels of frequent incidents of children being raped, assaulted and abused while held
in adult jails. The DJJ was established to create protections for children that adult jails cannot provide. The new law
obliterates those protections.

Michelle Knight’s children are all too familiar with the harsh realities of adult jails. Both were housed in adult facilities
despite being charged as juveniles. “Kids make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they still aren’t kids,” Knight said.

“If county leaders don’t take a stand for our children by rejecting this law, children who are already vulnerable will
live out nightmares while locked up in jails with adult criminals,” said Debra Anderson. “There’s a reason we have
special protections in place for juveniles. If county leaders truly care and hope to give kids a chance to make better
decisions, they must keep them in juvenile facilities where they can get treatment and rehabilitation services they
won’t get in adult facilities.”

The Florida Sheriff’s Association has already rejected attempts to maintain juvenile standards – allowing local sheriff
departments to refuse to recognize the difference between adults and children. Deputies, who receive no training in
dealing with youth, are allowed to use mace and tasers and even place children in isolation for days at a time.

“Putting children in adult jails exposes them to the horrible conditions that prompted changes in the Florida’s juvenile
justice system forty years ago. It is a huge step backwards and our children’s lives depend on the leadership of
county leaders refusal to place them in unnecessary danger,” said Henderson.