Children in Prison Project
In 1997, the Public Interest Law Center began its Children in Prison Project (CIPP) in response to the wave of Florida children being swept into the adult criminal system. In 1995 alone, Florida transferred 7,000 children to the adult criminal system. The primary goal is to provide legal representation to children in adult prison. In specific, the project is focused on the 256 juveniles who received life without parole sentences in Florida. Approximately 12 second and third year law students each year participate in the Children in Prison Project. Students represent juveniles in prison in a variety of ways, specifically in the areas of resentencing, clemency, and post-conviction motions and appeals. Students receive 2-4 credit hours. The CIPP is directed and taught by Professor Paolo Annino. No certification is required.
In 2010, the CIPP shared with the juvenile life without parole community a major victory in Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010). The United States Supreme Court found that sentencing a juvenile to life without parole for a non-homicide crime violates the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court heavily relied on the empirical research done by the CIPP, where we showed that Florida sentencing practice was unusual: Florida sentenced 77 juveniles to life without parole for non-homicides, whereas 39 states sentenced zero.
Children in Prison Project (CIPP) student Valentina Villalobos
is advocating for CIPP client Kenneth at his resentencing hearing.
Because of the Graham decision, now there are over 77 juveniles in Florida who have the right to be resentenced. The CIPP recently represented Kenneth at resentencing. He had originally received four consecutive life sentences. Kenneth was 14 and just recently 15 years old when he participated in four armed robberies with a 24 year old convicted felon. At resentencing, the Court sentenced Kenneth to 30 years. Kenneth was very grateful that he was no longer condemned to die in prison, and would be released in 14 more years. CIPP is currently appealing this decision.
On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court expanded their decision in Graham to cover juveniles who received mandatory life without parole sentences for homicides in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. ___ (2012). Florida has a mandatory life sentence scheme, such that, once convicted for homicide, the judge has no discretion but to give a child a life sentence. The Supreme Court found this type of mandatory sentencing scheme to be unconstitutional. There are approximately 200 juveniles in the State of Florida who have the right to be sentenced under Miller.
The Children in Prison Project represents juveniles that were mandatorily sentenced to life without parole for homicide crimes committed as juveniles. We currently represent Courtney who was convicted, with her 19 year
old boyfriend, of the murder of her father when she was 16 years old. She was mandatorily sentenced to life without parole. Because of the decision in Miller, Courtney will now have the chance to be resentenced and no longer be forced to die in prison for acts committed as a juvenile. CIPP recently filed a post-conviction motion for Courtney, the first step in the resentencing process.
At present, the Children in Prison Project has a clemency petition pending before the Governor of Florida and the Cabinet on behalf of Timothy who was 14 years old when he was charged with felony murder. Tim had no prior criminal record. Tim played school football and had an IQ of 137. His parents divorced in 1989 and Tim began to hang out with the wrong crowd. He was with a 19 year old and a 17 year old who told Tim they were going to commit a burglary, not a murder. Although, there is no dispute that Tim did not participate in the murder, he received a life sentence. Tim has been a model prisoner and has never received a disciplinary report in the 17 years he has spent in prison.