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Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys convenes at Mt. Olive Baptist Church

1A09 27 12 CMYK2 Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys convenes at Mt. Olive Baptist Church

L to r: Dr. Eddy Regnier and State Rep. Dennis Baxley

Florida Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys convenes at Mt. Olive Baptist Church

Pictured, l to r: Dr. Eddy Regnier and State Rep. Dennis Baxley.

By Charles Moseley

     If Black males were classified as animals it is quite likely that they would be on the endangered species list. What separates Black males from their animal counterparts is that un-fortunately the same laws put in place to protect endangered animals don’t apply to Black males. More often than not a large number of Black males wind up spending their lives deeply entrenched in the criminal justice system.

     Studies have shown that more and more Black males are dropping out of school and turning to crime as their only means of survival. Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of The Office of the Florida Attorney General-Council on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys (OFAG-CSSBMB) which came to Fort Lauderdale recently as part of a statewide effort to gather information from within the Black community concerning the critical needs faced by many Black males in society.

    The New Mt. Olive Baptist Church provided the backdrop for a day-long community panel discussion on Sept. 21, 2012, which featured an array of top state and local experts representing law enforcement, healthcare, juvenile justice, social welfare, and education. They met for the express purpose of sharing their thoughts while engaging in an open dialog with community representatives.

    The representatives were either directly impacted or ARE on the frontlines of the battlefield to save young and not so young Black males caught up in a world characterized by illiteracy, high unemployment and crime.

    One by one, the panel of experts enumerated the social ills which exist in urban areas and Black neighborhoods around the state that are having an adverse affect on millions of Black males, not only in Florida, but nationwide.

    Regina Williams is a registered nurse from Dade County who has worked in Jackson Memorial Hospital’s emergency room. She said an alarming number of young Black males are committing crimes and dying in record numbers as a result of problems linked to their environment and mental conditions.

    “Domestic violence among young Black males and suicides are on the rise. These are mental health issues that need to be addressed,” said Williams.

    Broward Circuit Court Judge Michael Robinson is charged with the responsibility to dispense justice to defendants charged with serious criminal offenses on a daily basis. His decisions often determine whether a defendant will ever get another chance at rehabilitating their lives. However the reality for many Black youths is that they will become en-trenched in the criminal justice system.

    Many of the Black males that come into Judge Robinson’s court have already accumulated extensive arrest records as juveniles. Once they reach a point when they become charged as adults, the criminal justice system takes on a whole different meaning.

    Judge Robinson said he oftentimes has some discretion, depending on the sentencing guidelines allowed by the courts as to where and how they will be sentenced.

    “By the time these Black males come to me it’s really too late. I have 50-, 60-, and some even 80-year-olds facing many years to life. If you’re 23 you still have a future. The people I’ve sent to prison at 36 for 10 years, when they come out, still have a future. So we have to look at that in the long run.

    “Parents don’t come to court. Aunts and uncles don’t have time. I have these individuals come before me and the Department of Corrections makes their recommendation and no one tells me the other side. I have to determine when some-one is facing a great deal of time to life, whether that person is salvageable.”

    Studies point to a direct correlation between the increasing trends of Black male incarceration rates with those who drop out of school at alarming numbers. According to The Urgency of Now, The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, for the school year of 2009-10 only 52 percent of Black males graduate from high school. This compares to a 78 percent graduation rate among white non-Latino males.

    Broward County Public Schools Superintendant Robert Runcie has made dropout prevention a top priority, particularly among Black male students. He pointed out expulsion rates among Black males is 30 times greater than their white male counterparts. He said that although socio-economic factors impact minority students they still should be expected to achieve when given the proper tools to succeed. He stressed that making sure that students learn how to read also is a priority.

    “Without a proper education you have no freedom,” said Runcie.

    Panel member Dr. Eddy Regnier is a forensic psychologist with a private practice in Sarasota, Fla. He often goes before judges to provide information to the courts regarding the mental issues that a defendant might have which can help the judge decide what course of action is appropriate for him or her to take. Sometimes treatment rather than jail time leads to more favorable outcomes from a rehabilitation stand-point. He is a strong advocate of what he termed “Smart Justice”. This term refers to the program which is used by law enforcement agencies as a tool used to prevent young offenders from doing jail time and thus avoid having a criminal record.

    “It is not a way for offenders to avoid their responsibility. It is a way for them to pay a penalty but given a second chance,” said Dr. Regnier.

    “Sometimes we find that these young men have been arrested and they have mental health problems and they haven’t received treatment and they’re buying drugs. The sentencing for these types of crimes tends to be very severe,” Dr. Regnier added.

    Dr. Regnier says that defendants that can afford his services are less likely to be sentenced to do jail time. He said that he can often make recommendations before the courts which lead to more favorable rulings on behalf of the defendant. More often than not, Black defendants cannot afford the expert testimony of someone like Dr. Regnier. They are literally at the mercy of the court, which is already overburdened with similar cases. 

    “I can talk to the judge in a way that softens whatever they have done. What I see in the courtroom frequently are young men sent to jail and given a criminal record when in fact something else could have been done.”

    He suggested that when judges using their discretion and employ alternatives to jail, young offenders are more likely to avoid becoming criminalized and more likely to go on to be-coming productive members of society.

    A number of municipal police departments, including the City of Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill, Hallandale Beach, and Broward Sheriff’s Department, have implemented juvenile civil citation programs that steer juvenile offenders into diver-sionary programs that, when successfully completed, result with them avoiding jail time and a criminal record.

State Representative Dennis Baxley who represents District 24 in Ocala, Fla., is a strong advocate for giving those not charged with violent crimes a second chance at life. He called for more emphasis on rehabilitation rather than simply locking criminals up and throwing away the key.

     “I too believe in redemption. There has to be a pathway back. We have over 100,000 people in Florida State prisons. I have chaired the Criminal Justice Committee and I’m going to be focused on the specific things that are being proposed here today. If we can save a billion dollars in corrections and in human costs, huge costs- then we can make this a better place.”

     The panel heard a wide range of suggestions from community members, all suggesting that more should be done in the area of rehabilitation rather than lengthy jail sentences. The general consensus among those who voiced their opinions said that if the problems facing a generation of Black males were not addressed in a more proactive fashion, then much of the same outcome would exist for generations of Black males to come.

     “Domestic violence among young Black males and suicides are on the rise. These are mental health issues that need to be addressed,” said Williams.

      Broward Circuit Court Judge Michael Robinson is charged with the responsibility of dispensing justice to defendants charged with serious criminal offenses on a daily basis. His decisions often determine whether a defendant will ever get another chance at rehabilitating their lives. However the reality for many Black youths is that they will become entrenched in the criminal justice system. Many of the Black males that come into Judge Robinson’s court have already accumulated extensive arrest records as juveniles. Once they reach a point when they become charged as adults, the criminal justice system takes on a whole different meaning. Judge Robinson said he oftentimes has some discretion, depending on the sentencing guidelines allowed by the courts as to where and how they will be sentenced.

     “By the time these Black males come to me it’s really too late. I have 50, 60, and some even 80-year-olds facing many years to life. If you’re 23 you still have a future. The people I’ve sent to prison at 36 for 10 years, when they come out, still have a future. So we have to look at that in the long run.

     “Parents don’t come to court. Aunts and uncles don’t have time. I have these individuals come before me and the Department of Corrections makes their recommendation and no one tells me the other side. I have to determine when someone is facing a great deal of time to life, whether that person is salvageable.”

     Studies point to a direct correlation between the increasing trends of Black male incarceration rates with those who drop out of school at alarming numbers. According to The Urgency of Now, The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, for the school year of 2009-10 only 52 percent of Black males graduate from high school. This compares to a 78 percent graduation rate among White non-Latino males.

     Broward County Public Schools Superintendant Robert Runcie has made dropout prevention a top priority, particularly among Black male students. He pointed out expulsion rates among Black males is 30 times greater than their white male counterparts. He said that although socio-economic factors impact minority students they still should be expected to achieve when given the proper tools to succeed. He stressed that making sure that students learn how to read also is a priority.

     “Without a proper education you have no freedom,” said Runcie.

     Panel member Dr. Eddy Regnier is a forensic psychologist with a private practice in Sarasota, Fla. He often goes before judges to provide information to the courts regarding the mental issues that a defendant might have which can help the judge decide what course of action is appropriate for him or her to take. Sometimes treatment rather than jail time leads to more favorable outcomes from a rehabilitation standpoint. He is a strong advocate of what he termed “Smart Justice”. This term refers to the program which is used by law enforcement agencies as a tool used to prevent young offenders from doing jail time and thus avoid having a criminal record.

     “It is not a way for offenders to avoid their responsibility. It is a way for them to pay a penalty but given a second chance,” said Dr. Regnier.

     “Sometimes we find that these young men have been arrested and they have mental health problems and they haven’t received treatment and they’re buying drugs. The sentencing for these types of crimes tends to be very severe,” Dr. Regnier added.

     Dr. Regnier says that defendants that can afford his services are less likely to be sentenced to do jail time. He said that he can often make recommendations before the courts which lead to more favorable rulings on behalf of the defendant. More often than not, Black defendants cannot afford the expert testimony of someone like Dr. Regnier. They are literally at the mercy of the court, which is already overburdened with similar cases. 

     “I can talk to the judge in a way that softens whatever they have done. What I see in the courtroom frequently are young men sent to jail and given a criminal record when in fact something else could have been done.”

     He suggested that when judges using their discretion and employ alternatives to jail, young offenders are more likely to avoid becoming criminalized and more likely to go on to becoming productive members of society.

     A number of municipal police departments, including the City of Fort Lauderdale, Lauderhill, Hallandale Beach, and Broward Sheriff’s Department, have implemented juvenile civil citation programs that steer juvenile offenders into diversionary programs that, when successfully completed, result in them avoiding jail time and a criminal record.

 

 

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    Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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