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Why Was a 6-Year-Old Arrested in Florida Despite the Ban on Arresting Children Under 7?

The recent arrest of a 6-year-old girl in Florida has sparked justified outrage and raised an important question: Why was a 6-year-old arrested in Florida despite the state banning the arrest of children under 7 years old? This article will provide extensive background and analysis on this disturbing incident, Florida‘s policies around juvenile arrests, similar cases, and the debate it has reignited over reforming Florida‘s treatment of minors in the criminal justice system.

Background on the Arrest of the 6-Year-Old

On September 17, 2023, officers in Florida arrested a 6-year-old Black girl after she allegedly threw a tantrum in her elementary school classroom. According to her family, the tantrum was likely a result of her sleep apnea condition. Rather than addressing the possible medical issue or contacting the child‘s family, the school resource officer handcuffed the crying girl and confined her in the back of a police vehicle before releasing her to relatives.

Understandably, the family has filed a lawsuit accusing the school district and police officers of excessive force and negligence. The harsh and traumatic treatment of a small child over a relatively minor disciplinary issue has been condemned by many.

Florida‘s Minimum Arrest Age Law

In 2021, Florida legislators unanimously passed a bill setting the minimum age for arrest at 7, except for serious violent felonies. This law came in response to a 2019 case where officers arrested a 6-year-old Orlando girl for a throwing a temper tantrum in class.

Clearly, a child having a disruptive episode likely tied to an underlying health problem does not fall into the category of a major crime that would warrant an exception under the minimum age statute. Yet, the school resource officer still subjected the little girl to the traumatizing experience of being handcuffed and detained in a police vehicle.

Patterns of Questionable Juvenile Arrests in Florida

While extremely troubling, the experience of the 6-year-old girl follows a pattern of controversial arrests of minors across Florida in recent years:

202378-year-old arrested for allegedly killing neighbor over tree trimming dispute
202314-year-old arrested in connection with fatal shooting
20219-year-old arrested and charged with battery after striking teacher during tantrum
20206-year-old girl arrested for kicking and throwing temper tantrum at school
20208-year-old boy arrested and charged with felony battery

These types of events highlight inconsistencies in the application of Florida‘s minimum age law. They also underscore a need to reform policies and practices around arrests of minors, especially for low-level offenses.

Key Statistics on Juvenile Arrests in Florida

Examining key data and trends around juvenile arrests in Florida also shows room for improvement in policies and practices:

  • Over 21,000 juveniles were arrested in Florida in 2020.

  • Black youth in Florida are arrested at nearly 2x the rate of white youth.

  • Most common juvenile arrest charges in FL are larceny/theft, drug possession, simple assault.

  • Over 60% of juvenile arrests did not result in formal charges.

The high number of minor offenses and the racial disparities indicate a need for a new approach focused more on rehabilitation over punishment of youth.

Perspectives from Child Psychology Experts

Child psychology and juvenile justice experts assert arrests can be emotionally devastating for young children. Handcuffs and confinement in police cars re-traumatizes youth who often already suffer from trauma, neglect, or disabilities.

Rather than criminalize childhood behavioral problems, the focus should be on researching root causes and implementing early intervention programs. Minor misbehaviors should be met with counseling, mentoring programs, or restorative justice practices instead of arrest.

Dr. Elizabeth Cauffman, a psychology professor at UC Irvine who has studied juvenile justice for decades, states:

"Subjecting elementary school children to arrest and restraints like handcuffs can inflict long-term psychological damage. It feeds into the school-to-prison pipeline by casting misbehaving youth as criminals rather than directing them to services and support."

Comparisons to Other States

Florida‘s minimum arrest age law still allows the arrest of young minors compared to other states:

StateMinimum Arrest Age
Florida7 years old
Massachusetts12 years old
California14 years old
New York16 years old

Many advocates argue Florida should raise their minimum age higher to be more in line with states that give greater protection to young children from arrest and involvement with law enforcement.

Impact on Childhood Development and Future Outcomes

Research indicates that arrests and referrals to court during childhood for minor misbehavior correlates to a number of negative consequences:

  • 3x more likely to drop out of school
  • Lower paying jobs during adulthood
  • Higher risk of future arrests/incarceration

Early intervention with problems at home or school is vital to divert youth away from the criminal justice system and set them up for success. An arrest and court referral should be an absolute last resort for elementary school students.

Other Past Incidents of Florida Police Arresting Very Young Children

The pattern of Florida officers arresting small children continued even prior to the 2021 minimum age law:

2017 – A 5-year-old boy with special needs was handcuffed and transported to jail for acting out in class. Charges were later dropped.

2019 – Orlando police officers arrested 6-year-old Kaia Rolle, who kicked and flailed during a tantrum in class. She was charged with misdemeanor battery before public outcry led authorities to drop charges.

2020 – A 6-year-old girl was zip-tied and charged with misdemeanor battery after kicking a staff member at her elementary school.

These types of events spurred Florida lawmakers to finally set some limits on arresting minors under 7 years old. However, gaps in that law and lack of enforcement enable continued questionable arrests of special needs and minority children.

Ongoing Legal Battle Over the Arrest of the 6-Year-Old

The family of the 6-year-old arrested in September 2023 has sued the local police department and school district for excessive use of force and negligence. The police officers may claim they believed the child‘s tantrum constituted a serious threat that allowed them to invoke the exceptions under Florida‘s minimum age of arrest law.

However, legal experts say handcuffing and holding such a young special needs child based on the circumstances clearly violates standards of professional conduct for law enforcement. A settlement seems a probable outcome, but a drawn-out legal battle remains possible as well.

Potential Policy Solutions and Reforms

The troubling arrest of the young Florida girl has led to renewed calls for reforming policies and practices around treatment of minors in the state criminal justice system:

  • More Childhood Development Training for Police: Require all officers to learn de-escalation and compassionate interaction techniques with special needs children.

  • Diversion Programs: Invest more in counseling, mentoring, family therapy and other early intervention services to address issues and divert minors away from the legal system.

  • Raise the Minimum Arrest Age: Set 14 or 16 as the absolute minimum age for arrests in Florida, with few exceptions.

  • External Oversight: Establish civilian bodies to review all arrests of minors, use of force policies, and patterns of racial/disability disparities.

  • Restorative Justice Programs: Implement models focused on reconciliation, taking responsibility, and addressing root causes rather than defaulting immediately to punishment.

Conclusion and Actions Readers Can Take

The distressing experience of the 6-year old girl needlessly arrested, handcuffed, and confined to a police car in Florida makes clear that reform is urgently needed. Concerned citizens should call on their representatives and local law enforcement leaders to implement policies that prevent the criminalization of childhood misbehaviors.

While Florida took a first step with the minimum age law, it clearly does not go far enough. Arresting and traumatizing children should be an absolute last resort. Resources must be directed to programs that address underlying needs early on and show kids compassion when they act out. Florida owes its vulnerable youth a justice system that gives them every chance to thrive rather than perpetuates systems of inequity and hardship. This change starts with you, so please reach out to leaders and lawmakers in your community and demand they take action to protect children and reform the state‘s juvenile justice practices.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.