JUVENILE JUSTICE; A Better Way

Article excerpt

A 13-year-old Orlando boy beat and choked his 8-year-old brother to death recently.

He was upset because the younger sibling had eaten some dessert, according to The Associated Press.

If people call for a crackdown on juvenile offenders in the aftermath of that, who could blame them?

But be careful.

The state has headed down that road before - without desirable results.

At least that's the opinion of Walter McNeil, secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, and former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan.

They were in Jacksonville recently as a juvenile justice reform commission, headed by Brogan, conducted public hearings.

Why not just "get tough" with young miscreants?

The two say that was tried in the early 1990s, after the Interstate 10 corridor shootings. It led to "zero tolerance" policies, which they say were counterproductive.

Most young people in the system, McNeil says, were referred by their schools - in many cases for "doing things we all did as kids."

"We were treated as bad kids. They're treated as criminals."

Why is that so bad?

"They're clogging the system," Brogan said, "costing us money that could be better spent on other things."

Zero tolerance policies sprung from good intentions. Save the crackdown for incorrigible thugs.

Other points made by McNeil and Brogan, verbally or in written material:

- Young blacks are five times more likely than whites to be detained. …