According to a recent story in the St. Petersburg TImes, a 15-year-old boy shoved a teacher into a doorjamb, a boy punched a 12-year-old girl because she said she didn’t like him, and a 14-year-old girl slapped and cursed at a younger classmate.
All three (3) of these incidents took place at John Hopkins Middle School, located at 701 16th Street South in St. Petersburg. Each of these three (3) incidents resulted in an arrest of the Juvenile offender.
In each case, a criminal charge was referred to the State Attorney’s Office by the St. Petersburg Police Department. And, in each of the three (3) cases, the charge was dropped by the State Attorney’s Office.These cases represent just a small fraction of the eighty-four (84) arrests made on campus from September, 2009 through February, 2010 as officers and school officials try to restore order on the often-chaotic middle school campus.
According to the St. Petersburg Police Department, these cases are indicative of a current trend: Many cases where the St. Petersburg Police Department make an arrest on a Juvenile offender are ultimately dropped (before formal charges are even filed) by the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office.
The reasons for this current trend vary: uncooperative victims, weak cases or the school already punished the student. Even when a student is prosecuted by the State Attorney’s Office, Juvenile court judges have limited powers to remove a child from a particular school to prevent future trouble.
According to the St. Pete TImes, “[t]he juvenile system, it seems, can’t fix what ails John Hopkins” Middle School.
“Does every bump in the hallway, every word that starts flying, does it belong down here in the Juvenile justice system?” said Joe Walker, Juvenile Division Director for the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office, “or is this something that can be handled by the family, by the school system? That’s the question.”The State Attorney’s Office won’t comment on specific criminal cases connected to disciplinary problems at John Hopkins Middle School. Furthermore, Juvenile court records are not public record.
“Every case, every one of them is different,” Walker said, “and they all have unique facts about them, and it’s our job to evaluate them to see if they can get to the level of successful prosecution.”
Walker said that school administrators have far more leeway to discipline and rein in students than the criminal justice system. “There’s a lot of remedies available to a principal,” he said.
Prosecutors, he said, have a higher burden of proof in Juvenile Court than arresting officers.
The purpose of the Juvenile justice system, in Florida at least, is to treat and rehabilitate first and punish them later — much later — if ever. And, as far as this author can tell, the Juvenile justice system is not keeping up with or sufficiently scaring the high-risk Juvenile offender.
Until the courts decide to “punish” Juvenile offenders, rather than providing them with a “slap on the wrist” and/or sending them to a Juvenile program (also known as “summer camp”), the Juvenile crime rate in the city of St. Petersburg and greater Pinellas County will continue to rise.
Until then, lock your car and make sure that you have a good alarm system in your home….