March 13, 2010
BY JOHN A. TORRES
Backers of a state bill that would provide a chance at freedom for children sentenced to long prison sentences are growing confident as the proposed legislation made it through a crucial Senate committee this week, further clearing the way for a possible vote by lawmakers.
The Second Chance for Children in Prison Act, the brainchild of Florida State University law professor Paolo Annino, would bring back the possibility of parole for children who were sentenced to more than 10 years in prison before they turned 15. The children must have served at least eight years, must be determined to have been rehabilitated, and must not have any disciplinary reports for the previous two years, among other requirements.
Annino sent a congratulatory e-mail to staffers and supporters after learning of this week's 6-1 vote.
The bill, which passed unanimously through the Florida House Public Safety and Domestic Security Committee earlier this month, now has to go through the House and Senate's Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee.
"This bill allows redemption for those who made mistakes as children and gives them a second chance in life," said supporter Sheila Hopkins, associate director for social concerns for the Florida Catholic Conference in Tallahassee.
The sponsors of the separate but identical bills -- Rep. Michael Weinstein and Sen. Arthenia Joyner -- both serve on the Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee.
"In terms of saving the state money and still ensuring public safety, allowing the parole commission the ability to review cases of inmates sentenced as juveniles age 15 and younger who meet certain qualifications and have demonstrated they can be rehabilitated fits into the new paradigm of re-entry," Hopkins said.
The bill could directly affect a brother and sister from Port St. John who were sentenced to 18 years in prison followed by a lifetime of probation after gunning down their father's girlfriend in 1999.
Catherine Jones, now 24, was 13 when she and her then-12-year-old brother Curtis Jones originally were charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of 29-year-old Nicole Speights. They pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Catherine Jones is due out in six years, and Curtis Jones is scheduled for release from prison in about seven years because of another infraction.
Last year, Catherine Jones told FLORIDA TODAY that the murder was part of a plot to kill Speights, their father and another relative because the children were being sexually abused by the other relative.
Some documents support her claim, including reports from the Department of Children and Families that found indications of sexual abuse in the home. The other relative is a registered sex offender who reportedly lives in Brevard County.
"Curtis told me he is praying for passage of the bill," Annino said earlier this month.
Contact Torres at 242-3649 or firstname.lastname@example.org.