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Panel at Stetson Law in Gulfport explores breaking the school-to-prison pipeline


Story by Valeria Obi

Judge Patrice Moore spoke on a panel Feb. 2 at Stetson Law about finding justice for juveniles.

Judge Patrice Moore spoke on a panel Feb. 2 at Stetson Law about finding justice for juveniles.

“A lot of juvenile decisions often end up with adult consequences,” Judge Patrice Moore told an audience of students, faculty and community members gathered in the Great Hall at Stetson Law last Thursday evening.

Judge Moore, of the 6th Judicial Circuit, joined a panel of experts on the Gulfport campus on Feb. 2 to discuss the impact of zero-tolerance law on juveniles. The panel included Lily McCarty of the Public Defender’s Office of the 13th Judicial Circuit; Stetson adjunct professor Judge Irene Sullivan; Trenia Cox of the Juvenile Welfare Board; Judge Moore of the 6th Judicial Circuit; Tim Niermann of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice; and Dr. Valerie Brimm, Director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships in St. Petersburg.

The experts discussed the school-to-prison pipeline and shared statistics that showed that Hillsborough County leads the state with the amount of children in the adult court system. They proposed some solutions and stressed the importance of getting parents involved.

“The problem seen most often is fathers who have criminal records and are parents to these children,” said Cox. “An effort should be made to educate the parents along with the children.”

“One of the most important things that needs to be done is to encourage children to dare to be different, dare to dream and dare to break this cycle,” Judge Moore said.

L-R: Panelists Dr. Valerie Brimm, Tim Niermann, Judge Patrice Moore, Trenia Cox, retired Judge and Adjunct Professor Irene Sullivan, and Lily McCarty.

L-R: Panelists Dr. Valerie Brimm, Tim Niermann, Judge Patrice Moore, Trenia Cox, retired Judge and Adjunct Professor Irene Sullivan, and Lily McCarty.

French exchange student Jenna Coudin said that the presentation opened her eyes to the juvenile justice system in the U.S.

“The juvenile system here in the U.S. is structured very differently than in France,” Coudin said. “In France, juveniles less than 13 years of age cannot be held responsible for their actions and cannot go to jail. Children 13 to 16 years of age are put under judicial control in very limited circumstances. Since 2007, however, juveniles that are older than 16 are treated as adults. In general, juveniles are protected just as much as those who are disabled.”

First-year law student Tiara Greene said, “What was most surprising to me was the average age of juveniles currently in the system. Hopefully, some of the solutions suggested will assist with this problem.”

The Juvenile Justice Initiative and Black Law Students Association at Stetson University College of Law and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida co-sponsored the panel discussion.

The Juvenile Justice Initiative at Stetson is a new group launched last semester with goals to improve legal representation for children through education, legislative reform, and courtroom advocacy. Stetson students and Professor Judith Scully are developing a Street Law pilot educational program for middle school students in the Pinellas County region.

Professor Judith Scully introduces the panel on Feb. 2 at Stetson Law in Gulfport.

Professor Judith Scully introduces the panel on Feb. 2 at Stetson Law in Gulfport.

For more information on delinquency in schools visit the 2010-2011 analysis by the Florida Dept. of Juvenile Justice .

For more information about the impact of zero-tolerance, visit the ACLU School-to-Prison Pipeline Initiative.

Link to radio news report about this program at WMNF News.