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Judge Tiffany Baker-Carper to speak on juvenile justice during Hot Topic discussion

Posted at 9:05 AM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-25 09:05:19-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Juvenile justice is at the center of today's hot topics conversation hosted by the Tallahassee League of Women Voters.

ABC 27 spoke with Leon County Judge Tiffany Baker Carper about what to expect from that conversation, what's changed in the legal process recently, and what she wants our youth to remember most.

She started by sharing a tough but heartfelt question she posed to one child who came through her courtroom.

"I will start with one of the most challenging experiences that I had on the bench," Carper said. "It almost brought me to tears. That is when I asked a child, 'how much are you worth?'"

Last year, Leon County spent more than 1 million dollars housing juveniles in secure detention facilities.

"The child told me $500," Carper said. She serves as a Juvenile Delinquency Judge for Leon county. Despite that million dollar investment, Carper says it's hard to put a price on the cost delinquency can have on a child's future. That's part of why she's addressing three of the most pressing issues plaguing juveniles in our area.

"One big one is gun violence," Carper delineates. "We have seen the proliferation of children taking guns to schools, we are witnessing children killing each other with firearms and just way too many firearms in the hands of children." She plans to tackle other hot topics as well, including "human trafficking in our community especially with our juveniles, and mental health," plus changes to Florida Statute 985.26, commonly known as the 21-day rule.

Before last July, if a child didn't have a trial after 21 days, they were expected to be released. Now, "the court, at the end of 21 days, could reassess the situation and say hey given the nature of this charge the state may need more time," Carper explains. "The defense counsel may need more time. Or for the preservation of public safety, the court can use discretion to hold the child for an additional 21 days."

All of this is time children could spend preparing for a better future. A desk in Judge Baker's courtroom can be seen covered in pamphlets pointing to places families can turn for help, like Pace Center for Girls.

"We are a prevention and early intervention program for girls middle and high school aged girls that are at risk of systems involvement," Jodi Stevens said as Director of Government Affairs for Pace Center for Girls. "We provide the full academic school day and wrap around social services."

ABC27 also spoke with Pace executive director Kristel Avilus, who said the young girls in the program "come disheartened, they come broken. They come feeling like they're a failure. And, as a former Pace girl myself, I was in that situation. ... But when I left here, I left with advocacy."

Adjacent to the courtroom, Baker points to a resource center with even more literature, plus shoes and clothes to help prepare young people for success. All this, because she says, "I realized that is easy for children to pick up a gun and shoot each other because they don't value themselves, they don't see themselves as priceless, don't see themselves as worthy of becoming a doctor or capable of being an engineer. ... They are unable to see beyond their environment. And so to that I would say, don't stop educating yourself don't stop believing in your abilities. You are priceless."

You can hear more of Judge Carper's take on Juvenile Justice during the Tallahassee League of Women Voters January Hot Topic discussion this evening at 6 p.m. at the Capital City Country Club.