As a Jacksonville criminal lawyer, I have represented juveniles and adults in criminal court. Unless the state attorney directly files a Jacksonville juvenile criminal case to adult court, defendants under the age of 18-years-old go to juvenile delinquency court and adults are sent to either circuit or county court. Although teenagers and young adults end up in adult court facing adult sanctions, they do not necessarily have the mind set of an adult. What I mean by this is that their brains may not be fully developed. The human brain continues to develop in your early twenties. Think about the person that you were in college. Now, think about the person that you are now. You are probably thinking about two very different people. The person that you are now is much better at making rational decisions. The person that you are now has better impulse control. The person that you are now is better at considering the consequences or his or her actions. Here is some interesting information about the adolescent brain:
“It is widely debated as to which age the brain is considered ‘fully mature’ or developed. In the past, many experts believed that the brain may have been done developing in the mid to late teens. Then along came some evidence to suggest that development may last until at least age 20. These days, a consensus of neuroscientists agree that brain development likely persists until at least the mid-20s – possibly until the 30s. The fact that our brains aren’t developed until the mid 20s means that ‘legal adults’ (those age 18+) are allowed to make adult decisions, without fully mature brains. Someone who is 18 may make riskier decisions than someone in their mid-20s in part due to lack of experience, but primarily due to an underdeveloped brain. All behaviors and experiences you endure until the age of 25 have potential to impact your developing brain.” (Mental Health Daily)
Shouldn’t a defendant’s age be taken into consideration when deciding the proper punishment? Shouldn’t a defendant’s age be considered when deciding whether or not he or she can be rehabilitated? It looks like a Jacksonville non-profit organization is taking this factor into consideration with a new program. Fresh Ministries has begun working with defendants in the Duval County Juvenile Justice System to help them find jobs and a new outlook on life. The program that they are offering to teens and young adults is aimed and changing the lives of young people. Channel 4 News of Jacksonville reported:
“A local non-profit that has been serving the community for more than 20 years is finding new ways to change the lives of children in need. Fresh Ministries started working on a program to help young people who’d come face to face with the long arm of the law, get onto a productive path that includes a job. Duval County youth under the supervision of the Juvenile Justice system in out-of-home placement, on probation or parole, can participate. For a business getting involved, there is no cost if a company wants to participate. At its heart it’s a partnership between Fresh Ministries and Career Source of Northeast Florida. Together they’re helping troubled teens make a U-turn and head in the direction of a bright future…. Right now there are 25 young people 17, 18 or 19 years old involved but Fresh Path can accommodate 150 people.”
As a criminal lawyer in Jacksonville, I believe that a program like this is needed. Many children and young adults just need guidance. If they do not find that guidance, they will end up in and out of the criminal justice system. After reading the news article, I tried to find more information about the program. I found this information on Fresh Ministries‘ website:
“Getting arrested as a youth can be the first step on a path to life of challenges; low educational attainment, difficulty finding employment and too often – more arrests and prison. FreshMinistries, Inc., a non-profit organization located in the heart of Jacksonville’s Eastside, has watched too many local youth go down that path and has decided to do something about it by offering a Fresh Path for these youth who want a chance to change their future. Funded by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Labor Department, Fresh Ministries, along with the support of its community partners, is proud to announce the launch of its Fresh Path program for youthful offenders. Community partners include Career Source of NE Florida, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, the State Attorney’s Early Intervention and Diversion Programs for Juveniles, and the Department of Juvenile Justice. The Fresh Path program will offer educational supports such as mentoring and tutoring, along with work readiness training and employment supports. Successful completion of the program may result in expungement of records for eligible participants. Comprehensive case management will also be provided to participants and their families as part of a holistic approach to removing barriers and positioning youth for success.”
Fresh Ministries’ website also explains what is required for a teenager or young person to enter the program. The eligibility requirements are as follows:
- Youth and young adults ages 14 to 24 who have been court-involved during the last year.
- Participants must be either under supervision of the Juvenile Justice System in out-of-home placement, on probation or parole or under an alternative sentence or in a diversion program as an alternative to juvenile prosecution.
- Must live in Duval County and cannot have been convicted of a crime as an adult.