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Social Activists To Angela Corey: Resign

Ryan Benk

Jacksonville progressive groups say State Attorney Angela Corey’s approach to juvenile justice should disqualify her from holding public office.

The coalition is calling on Governor Rick Scott to remove her.

About 20 people from groups, including Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, Wrongfully Incarcerated and Convicted and Mad Moms, gathered at Jacksonville’s Friendship Fountain to criticize the state attorney. If Corey doesn't bow out of her reelection bid, the coalition wants the governor to show her the door.

“Why is that? As you can see, the Southern Poverty Law Center has declared that the state attorney’s office is the worst,” said Mad Moms’ Patricia Brooks.

She gestured to large, full-color graphs showing Duval County tops the country’s list for the number of death-row inmates, and was third in the number of minor offenders charged as adults with felonies.

Brooks and her cohorts are asking Democrats to switch party affiliations to vote for Corey’s opponent in the Republican primary.

And as the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition’s Wells Todd said, they’re not stopping with Corey. They’re going after her donors – Firehouse Subs and Safe Touch Security.

“We’re asking the public to boycott those two institutions until she is removed from office,” Todd said.

Corey’s detractors say she is unnecessarily harsh because she too often unilaterally decides to charge juveniles as adults instead of letting judges have a say, which is part of the state’s direct file law. The coalition also sent Jacksonville City Council copies of Human Rights Watch’s Branded for Life. The study recommends doing away with that in favor of giving a judge discretion to charge a juvenile as an adult “based on testimony and evidence presented at a hearing.”

In a statement emailed to WJCT, Corey said her office reserves adult court for juveniles who commit the worst crimes. The latest? The 16-year-old charged in the shooting of 22-month-old Aiden McClendon

“This special interest group’s focus is on defendants; our focus is on our victims. We are proud of our record of seeking justice for all of our victims, including the black victims who are the primary target of the black defendants we prosecute,” it stated. “The facts show only the most serious offenders are prosecuted in adult court. … No protest will change the way we handle these violent offenders who choose to break the law.”

But the Southern Poverty Law Center also found that more than half of juveniles charged as adults were tried for nonviolent offenses.

Corey also extols her use of pretrial diversion programs, but as an editorial in the Florida Times-Union pointed out Friday, the success of such programs is dubious at best. Corey’s Youthful Offender Program relies on so-called “scared straight” tactics that have been debunked. The Justice Department has also voiced opposition to such programs.

When it comes to issuing civil citations, which amount to tickets for committing non-violent crime, Duval ranks low on the list and studies have shown it to be more effective at reducing recidivism.

Still, with the state GOP machine behind Corey in a conservative judicial circuit in Northeast Florida, it’ll be difficult to unseat her.

Florida leads the nation in children and teens being charged as adults.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.