House bill would establish minimum age for arrest

Florida police do not have restrictions on how old a person must be before they can arrest them. Photo by Paulette Jordan

The Florida House or Representatives has been discussing HB 303, which would set a minimum age for arrest or prosecution. This bill would prevent the arrest of children under the age of 7. There is not a minimum age for children in Florida to be handcuffed or taken to jail, while 22 states do in fact have statutes setting a minimum age for arrest.

In the past six years, 5% of all juvenile arrests in Florida were elementary aged. Their specific age ranges from 5 to 12 years old.

According to Florida law enforcement, in 2019 more than 2,781 arrests involved children between 5 and 12 years old. 

“In Florida, there is no statute specifying any minimum age for arrest, which means there is nothing legally preventing a preschooler, two-and-a-half years-old, from being arrested,” said Democratic Rep. Patricia Williams, a sponsor of the bill. “Make Florida the next state to establish a minimum arrest age aimed at protecting our young children.”

In February of 2020, Kaia Rolle, a 6-year-old from Orlando, was arrested and handcuffed after having a temper tantrum where she kicked and punched three school employees. Meralyn Kirkland, Rolle’s grandmother, said she is hoping that when people watch the footage of her granddaughter’s arrest, they will support a proposal to change that law by making 12 the minimum age for arrest. She said she would also like to see school resource officers receive more training and preparation, especially to work with young children.

“Little babies have been arrested. She was not comforted. She was not consoled. She was not spoken to. Instead of hugs and expressions of love, she received pain, confusion, the absolute terror of being yanked away from people she knew, the school administrator. She had no family members, no parents, guardians,” Kirkland said.

Kaia was processed at the county juvenile assessment center, where the girl’s mugshot and fingerprints were taken, Kirkland said, adding that employees at the center had to use a step stool so Kaia could reach the camera for the mugshot.

A mother from Clearwater, Tyeisha Harmon, has come forward to explain an arrested that was made involving her then 7-year old son. “It should never get to a point where he needs to be handcuffed. It’s like, you do that to criminals, He’s 7. He’s not a criminal. He’s a kid. How much damage can he really do?” Harmon asked. 

A school resource officer had complained that Harmon’s son had begun scratching, kicking and hitting her. The resource officer then rolled the boy on his stomach and handcuffed him. 

“Asking for a second chance is a universal principle that is found at the core of our existence here in this country,” said Rep. Kionne McGhee, the Democratic leader in the House. McGhee sponsored the measure in his chamber.