TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Human Rights Watch issued a statement Friday reporting a drastic increase in the number of incarcerated infants and toddlers in the state of Florida. According to the statement, the number of jailed babies and toddlers has skyrocketed nearly 300 percent in the last month.
The staggering increase was made possible by a recent amendment to Florida’s Direct File Law, which allows prosecutors the right to transfer juvenile cases to adult courts at their own discretion without the approval of a judge or other impartial party. The amendment allows children as young as 18 months to be tried as adults.
“This is a truly troubling change,” says HRW spokeswoman Amy Gray. “We’ve already heard tons of horror stories—everything from infants charged with hate crimes to toddlers that have been bribed with McDonalds in exchange for guilty pleas. There are parents pressing charges against their own children.”
One such parent is John Graines, who made the difficult decision to press charges against his 2-year-old son, Jason. According to Graines, Jason came running down the stairs last Saturday, holding his thumb and index finger in a way that “clearly mimicked an automatic weapon, maybe an assault rifle. “I mean, this was no 9 mm pistol.”
Jason ran up to his 8-year-old sister, pointed the gun at her and yelled “I’m cowboy! Pow!”
Graines said that despite his best efforts, Jason continued his behavior. “I tried everything. I told him that wasn’t the way we treated our sister. I asked him nicely to stop, twice. After I realized there was no reasoning with him, I knew the right thing to do-I had to get the law involved.” Choked up, Graines added, “You didn’t see the look in his eye. It was maniacal.”
Stanley Thompson, sheriff of Okaloosa County, commended Mr. Graines for taking action. “It might seem harsh to you, but this is about our future. What’s next for this kid? Rape? Murder? Walking to get Skittles at dusk? It’s about the bigger picture.”
Though there are already over 100,000 children placed in adult jails and prison annually, sending infants to penitentiaries comes with a unique set of challenges—for one, budgeting for items like diapers and super tiny handcuffs. It’s also given way to an onslaught of new charges, including the felony charge that Jason faces: aggravated assault with a hypothetical weapon. If convicted, Jason could be sentenced to up to 10 years.
Jason Graines, currently awaiting trial at an Okaloosa County Holding Center, was unavailable for comment, as it was nap time.