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California bill looks to send more youth to adult prison

On Tuesday, April 29, California’s Senate Public Safety Committee will vote on SB 838 (Beall), a bill that could dramatically increase the number of youth tried and sentenced in the adult criminal justice system. The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice strongly opposes this bill because it fails to deter crime, denies young people opportunities for education and rehabilitation, and threatens public safety.

Background

A youth who has been accused of a crime is normally tried in juvenile court, which has as its primary focus rehabilitation — an acknowledgement that young people have the potential to “grow out of” criminal behavior and to lead productive and law-abiding lives. However, a judge can decide to transfer the youth to adult court, after weighing the input of experts, the circumstances of the youth’s life, and the severity of the crime. For certain offenses, the prosecuting attorney can directly file a youth’s case in adult court, without considering any of these factors.

If transferred to adult court, the youth is often denied the rehabilitative and educational opportunities of the juvenile justice system. Instead, he or she is subjected to adult punishment — including harsh sentences in state prison and the lifelong consequences of an adult felony conviction.

SB 838

SB 838 will escalate the punishment of sex offenses that 1) involve “social media”, including sharing cell phone photos and messages of the incident, or 2) involve a victim who is incapable of resisting due to a disability or intoxication. Most significantly, it gives the prosecuting attorney unrestricted discretion over transferring the accused youth to adult court, and will thus sweep a wide range of youth into the adult criminal justice system.

For those cases that remain in juvenile court, the bill will open courtroom proceedings to the general public and media, exposing both the accused and the victims. Finally, youth who are convicted of these crimes could face up to one additional year of incarceration and a $10,000 fine.

Why CJCJ opposes SB 838

SB 838 does nothing to prevent the crimes addressed, nor to treat or rehabilitate justice-involved youth. Instead, it casts an entirely new category of youth into the punitive adult prison system, damaging their lives and ultimately endangering the public.

The bill ignores decades of research — and common sense — that young people are in the process of maturing, making them both less culpable for their actions and more likely to change. It flies in the face of substantial evidence finding that youth transferred to the adult criminal justice system are more likely to recidivate, and for more serious offenses, than youth who remain in the juvenile justice system. These data are not surprising, given that the juvenile justice system offers ample opportunities for rehabilitation, including treatment for young sex offenders; such options are extremely limited in adult prison.

Take Action

Urge legislators to vote NO on this misguided bill. Call members of the Senate Public Safety Committee and tell them to support keeping youth in the juvenile justice system. And if you can, come to Tuesday’s hearing in Sacramento to state your opposition in person.

Keywords: direct file, Lizzie Buchen, SB 838, youth

Posted in Blog, Juvenile Justice

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