Teen who killed parents serving sentence in juvenile facility, not prison

David Albers/Staff
- Alex Crain listens to the details of his plea deal at the Collier County Courthouse on Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Naples. Crain plead no contest to two counts of manslaughter in the shooting death of his parents and was sentenced to about 20 years in prison and 10 years probation.

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David Albers/Staff - Alex Crain listens to the details of his plea deal at the Collier County Courthouse on Thursday, April 19, 2012, in Naples. Crain plead no contest to two counts of manslaughter in the shooting death of his parents and was sentenced to about 20 years in prison and 10 years probation.

Charged and sentenced as an adult, 16-year-old Alex Crain is now being treated like a juvenile.

Crain, who shot and killed his parents in December 2010, has settled into a juvenile justice facility near Lake Okeechobee, about 125 miles from his Golden Gate Estates home.

He's one of the fortunate few juveniles in the corrections system to be placed in a Department of Juvenile Justice setting, which juvenile advocates generally agree is better for rehabilitation of violent teens.

It's been about six months since Crain entered the corrections system, where he was expected to be sent to a Florida prison to serve his 20-year sentence on a manslaughter plea. But corrections officials have agreed to place the teen in a less restrictive Department of Juvenile Justice setting.

Teens charged and convicted as adults are sometimes moved to a DJJ facility after considering the convict's age, criminal history and mental make-up, said Misty Cash, deputy director of communications for the Florida Department of Corrections. Crain could remain under DJJ watch until age 21.

In Crain's case, it helped him that he had never been through the criminal justice system, Cash said.

"(Crain) was placed at a DJJ facility because they thought that environment is what would be best for him," Cash said. "We have to remember he does have a release date, and while he's in our custody, we have to prepare him for that day of release."

Crain's lawyer, Brian Bieber, said he requested the placement. Crain's family members, many of whom have stood by Crain since the shootings, were encouraged by the state's decision, Bieber said.

"We lobbied for it, we hoped for it and we are extremely pleased that the (Department of Corrections) exercised its discretion," Bieber said. "A boy of Alex's age shouldn't be housed with adults, regardless of the crime he pled guilty to or regardless of the nature of the crime."

Barring his conviction being overturned, highly unlikely given his plea and confession, Crain will remain in the state prison system until at least age 31. At sentencing, lawyers from both sides said the 20-year prison term balances rehabilitation and retribution.

Crain's placement seems to continue that sentiment.

He remains held in a facility for high- and maximum-risk teens age 13 to 21, about a two-and-a-half hour drive from his hometown. Yet juvenile advocates agree teens are generally better off in a juvenile justice setting, rather than a state prison. While Crain would have been segregated from the adult population in a state prison, he would have had fewer educational, vocational and mental health opportunities there.

"In general, the Department of Corrections is oriented toward adults and punishment. It's not oriented to treatment," said Cassandra Capobianco, an attorney with Florida Institutional Legal Services, which often works with juveniles in the justice system. "That's not to say there isn't treatment in the Department of Corrections. But DJJ, their goal is specifically rehabilitation."

Crain's placement appears abnormal. Of the 196 juveniles in the state prison system, only four have been moved to a DJJ facility. They are Crain, a 16-year-old from Pensacola who shot and killed his father and two 15-year-olds each serving four-year terms for robbery and sexual battery, respectively.

The remaining 192 juveniles are either in state prisons, inmate reception centers, work centers or out of state custody by court order.

"It's our job to protect them, house them and keep them safe, regardless of their age or what they've done," Cash said of juveniles in the prison system. "It's not a situation where they come in and lock the door and throw away the key."

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