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A Punishment That Fits the Crime: FL Reviews Sentencing Law for Juveniles

Photo: Kenneth Young was sentenced to four life sentences for a series of armed robberies he committed when he was 14, under the direction of an adult. Courtesy: www.15tolifefilm.com
Photo: Kenneth Young was sentenced to four life sentences for a series of armed robberies he committed when he was 14, under the direction of an adult. Courtesy: www.15tolifefilm.com
April 11, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today the Florida Senate is scheduled to consider a bill that would bring the state in compliance after two Supreme Court decisions determined the state's juvenile sentencing laws are unconstitutional.

It's too little, too late for inmates such as Kenneth Young, who was sentenced to four life sentences for armed robberies he committed when he was 14.

Chrissy Dorian was his teacher in high school and later in jail.

"Kenneth was one of my favorite students ever,” she relates. “Of all of my students, I have to say he would be the last one that I thought would ever experience or go through something like this.

“It absolutely broke my heart when I found out what had happened."

Young is one of 2,500 juveniles nationwide sentenced to life in prison since the late 1990s.

He committed the crimes under the direction of his mother's drug dealer, and until then Dorian says he was a model student.

This Sunday a film featuring Young's story – "15 to Life" – will be screened at the Florida Film Festival in Orlando.

Paolo Annino works as Young's attorney and is also the director of the Children in Prison Project at Florida State University.

He and his staff applied for re-sentencing for Young and a judge reduced his term to 30 years.

Annino says the fact that Young committed the crimes under the influence of an adult should be taken into account.

"Kenneth didn't have a gun,” Annino points out. “Kenneth did not have a car. Kenneth had no idea that when he agreed to do these aggravated robberies what the consequences were."

According to Human Rights Watch, 70 percent of juveniles sentenced to life in prison committed their crimes under the direction of an adult.

Dorian and others who work closely with Young believe he's served his time, and is ready to be a contributing member of society.

"He made a mistake, definitely,” she says. “He didn't hurt anybody, and I would love to see him be given another opportunity to make something out of his life. "

The United States is the only country in the world to sentence children to life in prison.


Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL