HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The five suspects who were chased by police and ended up in a rollover crash on I-95 on Wednesday were 16 or younger and all of them had previous arrests. In fact, many of them had multiple previous arrests. So, the question we wanted to get answered was this: “Why do some kids fall through the cracks? And how do we prevent it?”
Attorney Roseanne Eckert attributes the problem to the current blueprint in place for juvenile justice. She said it’s backwards.
“One of the biggest issues is that while we are spending money, we’re not necessarily spending money in the right places. There aren’t services and supports to help them succeed. If anything, the system is designed to keep them from succeeding,” said Eckert, who also runs the Direct File and Youthful Offender Project at Florida International University.
“Instead of focusing on the backend of having police and courts and prosecutors and prisons and guards, it would be great if we focused on prevention and had social workers and mentors up front,” said Eckert.
Eckert spends hours each day working on cases for young people who are charged with major crimes. So, after the police chase and violent crash and rollover Wednesday that led to five kids being taken into custody, we wanted to know how it happens that young people get stuck in the juvenile justice system.
“Very often a child who’s not behaving has other underlying issues. It might be ADHD, they might be on the spectrum, they could have serious trauma going on, and a lot of times it’s not diagnosed. They’re very often taken out of the very electives that keeps them in school. They’re denied the opportunity to be in drama or art, and now they have to take two hours of the very subject they did poorly at.”
She said when they do get into trouble, they are immediately labeled and that label sticks with them for a long time, even in their own heads.
“It’s just very frustrating and demoralizing and they end up dropping out of school and heading into the streets and committing delinquent acts and eventually some very serious crimes.”
Eckert said she believes that the general public’s perception is that children who are committing crimes should be parented better at home.
“The reality is, that’s not happening. A child is placed on probation in the juvenile program, (then) they’re sent home to the same family that was not equipped to take care of their needs in the first place.”
She said fortunately it can be prevented.
“I think we need to focus on mentorship and early intervention. The children, even children in the most dysfunctional homes, can overcome their environment if they just have one person who took an interest in them.”
As for the five juveniles charged in Wednesday’s police chase and crash, one appeared in a front of a judge on Thursday, two were sent home to their families and given notices to appear in a front of a judge in June, and another is expected to face a judge soon. One of the juveniles remains in the hospital.