Inept lawmakers put kids at risk

resulting in indirect murder of kid criminals

by FRED GRIMM Published Friday, April 21, 2000, in the Miami Herald

Forget those outmoded notions about education or rehabilitation or rebuilding self-esteem. Florida's prescription for juvenile offenders has become Christopher Soule. Soule and his ilk have become custodians of the state's peskiest kid criminals.

Kids like Michael Myers. Remember Myers? He was the mentally disturbed 15-year-old from Plantation, convicted of sex crimes and sent off to adult prison in 1996. The only words spoken in the courtroom by the pale, slumped, dull- eyed boy: ``I do need help. I really want help. Please help me.''

Help, however, is not the preferred strategy in Florida corrections. That year, about 300 juveniles were consigned to adult prison. Since, hundreds more have been added. And a bill passed this current legislative session by both the Florida House and Senate would add more, automatically mandating adult penalties for juveniles convicted for gun crimes.


In effect, older, tougher, meaner convicts like Christopher Soule have become social workers and career counselors in Florida's evolving juvenile justice system. Soule, for example, with his shaved head and white-power lightning bolt tattoo and anti-social -- even by prison standards -- behavior, was considered an appropriate cellmate for a profoundly disturbed teenage boy.

In 1997, Soule, 23, with 13 felony convictions, was serving a 10-year sentence for burglarly, assault and armed robbery, including the robbery of four elderly people, when Martin Correctional Institution assigned him a new, underage roomie. Soule, whose lawyer claimed he should have been taking medication for his own serious mental problems, was known among prisoners for his violent mood swings. And there were other reasons why only a prison system dedicated to the brutal and uncivilized treatment of children would house a kid with someone like Soule.

A negligence lawsuit filed by Myers' parents refers to a stack of ominous complaints Soule filed with MCI officials in the months and weeks before young Michael was assigned to his cell.

On Oct. 13, 1996, Soule complained, ``I cannot be confined in a room with anybody at this institution.'' On Oct. 29, 1996, he repeated that complaint. ``There is no way I can possibly be able to successfully adjust here at Martin. The longer I stay here, the greater the problem will become.''

On May 8, 1997. Soule was explicit. ``I will do my best to injure my roommate.'' Two days later, the prison -- perhaps reflecting the spirit of Florida juvenile justice -- assigned the sickly 115-pound Myers to a cell with 6-foot-2, 195-pound Soule.


On June 5, 1997, at 9:39 a.m., Michael Myers was found dead in his cell. Strangled. The following year, a second-degree murder conviction was added to Soule's rap sheet. In the lawsuit still winding its way through circuit court in Martin County, the Department of Corrections clings to a sovereign immunity defense, not bothering to refute the unseemly allegations that a troubled child was placed in a cell with a particularly nasty adult criminal who had threatened mayhem on his next cellmate.

And why should the prison system duck the facts? Florida's legislature plainly sees men like skinhead Christopher Soule as the answer to juvenile crime.