Florida is called “The Sunshine State”. We have a governor who made one of his first changes: the ability for former prison inmates to vote. We have Walter A. McNeil, Secretary and person in charge of the Department of Corrections, and Franchatta Barber, Assistant Secretary, is in charge of the Florida Re-Entry program. Yet, Florida has the largest number of youth (over 70%) in the United States, serving life or many years of prison terms, all without parole, for crimes committed that did not include murder. In fact, one report shows that no other prisoner in the United States is serving a life sentence without parole for a juvenile burglary conviction. The three youth pictured above are from Jacksonville.
Another concern is race in the State of Florida since only 16 percent of the general population is black. Yet, almost half of Florida’s prison population is black and 84 percent of juveniles sentenced to life for offenses that did not include murder, are black.
Shimeek Gridine, 15 was sentenced on the last day of April, 2010 to 70 years in prison, with no chance of parole, even though the Supreme Court determined this week that juveniles can no longer receive a life sentence if they are not accused of murder, without the chance for parole. Such a sentence, according to the Supreme Court, is unconstitutional. But Gridine’s case is different. The Jacksonville judge did not give him a life sentence; he gave him 70 years, which is the longest term to date, in the state, for a youth who has committed a crime in which no one was killed. At 15 years of age, he will be 85 years old when he is released. He is not eligible for parole as the state does not allow parole. He can apply for parole after serving 85% of his sentence, which means he will serve 59 and a half years before he can seek parole, which will make him 74 years of age.
These youth are placed in a juvenile facility until they reach the age of 18. At that age, they will be placed with other adults.
So, what is the reason for a re-entry program for these youth? There is none. Even though they may regret what they did as children, only those who come under the new Supreme Court’s decision will have the opportunity to prove they can serve and be a part of the community without a problem, and that is not a guarantee.
When talking with the attorney for Gridine, he stated that he is seeking a method, information and materials to give the 15 year old a chance, including help from political personnel and the community since the Supreme Court’s decision did not include him. The longest term given a youth prior to Gridine, was 40 years, and that too was in Florida. Gridine’s family is out of money. How will they be able to seek him a ‘chance.’?
Terrance Graham, now 23, was implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17 and has been locked up in Florida since. Gridine did not have a history of crime as his only offense prior to this one was for petty theft.
No one wants to see crime continue but everyone deserves a chance to change.