California votes yes for juvenile justice reform
Jerry Brown is a man on a mission. The California governor is set on shrinking the state’s prison population, including the number of juveniles caught up in the system.
That was why he threw his support behind Prop 57, one element of which would throw out a 2000 law that shunted more young defendants into adult courts. In 2014 alone, the number was 395.
The proposition called for all referrals to be made only by a judge. As it stands, there are circumstances under which prosecutors can take a case out of juvenile court and throw it into adult adjudication. These conditions apply to offenders 14 and older and include the defendant being accused of
- committing a crime for which an adult would receive a death or life-imprisonment sentence
- using a firearm while committing a felony
- involvement in a gang-related crime
- a hate crime
- carrying out an offense against a victim 65 or older or disabled
Under Prop 57, prosecutors would have to request a transfer and make arguments before a judge. It would be up to the judge to decide where the juvenile would be tried.
Prop 57 has historical precedent
In case anyone thinks this would be a radical departure from historical precedent, it would be quite the opposite. This was how juvenile offenders were handled before 2000. Another proposition, 21, in that year gave prosecutors the additional power.
It was a funny thing about the year 2000. Juvenile crime rates were dropping. So why did Prop 21 pass? As The Los Angeles Times explained in an editorial before this year’s vote, "politicians got a lot of mileage out of the argument that huge numbers of children and teenagers had morphed into uncontrollable predators who could be dealt with only by trying them and punishing them as if they were fully formed adults. It was a message built on fear and dipped in racism—because a disproportionate number of the people affected by it were nonwhite—and the subtext was that judges were too softhearted or softheaded to see how just vicious young offenders had become."
The editorial’s headline—"Prop 57 is a much-needed check on prosecutorial power. Vote yes."
The good news is a lot of people did, overwhelmingly so. The final tally was 5,501,627 (63.59 percent) for, 3,150,477 (36.41 percent) against.
Teenagers should not, for the most part, be tried as adults. Research has shown an adolescent’s brain is not fully developed. Young people are more easily swayed by peer pressure and many lack impulse control or the ability to think about the consequences of their actions. Keeping teens in the juvenile justice system and looking at alternatives like Multisystemic Therapy (MST) will give these kids a better chance to veer away from a continued life of crime. We salute Californians for voting yes.
To learn more about what makes MST an effective alternative to incarceration, download this white paper.