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Treating Young Offenders Like Adults Is Bad Parenting

Now that Proposition 57 is on the California ballot for November, interests have risen regarding the practice of direct file” — the ability of prosecutors to directly charge young people under age 18 in adult court rather than juvenile court. The Atlantic interviews CJCJ’s Nisha Ajmani and Mike Males, and determines that district attorneys’ unfettered power to prosecute youth as adults doesn’t benefit anyone — except prosecutors.

From The Atlantic:

With direct file, there’s no opportunity for it to go before a judge to make that very important decision on whether or not a child should be prosecuted as an adult,” said Nisha Ajmani, a lawyer and program manager at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice who opposes the practice. She works with lawyers and young clients on direct-file cases or to prepare for fitness hearings.

A judge should really be the party making that decision after a fair, thorough, and neutral process,” Ajmani said, warning that district attorneys subject to elections often want to appear tough on crime to ensure their political viability. It shouldn’t be the prosecutor who only has 48 hours to make that decision and is inherently biased to begin with.”

A Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice report, Justice by Geography,” looked at the use of direct filing in California. Its author, Mike Males, a senior research fellow at CJCJ, argues that direct filing is a criminal-justice tool that’s not actually impacting crime in any meaningful way. There are a couple of larger questions here. The first is the context,” he said. There’s been a mammoth decline in juvenile crime in California … Juveniles are only as likely to be arrested today as they were in 1980.” It’s true: Felonies, misdemeanors, and homicides are down more than 80 percent. Males said this dramatic decrease has lead to a rather mysterious political climate” in which no one talks about the decline.

Juvenile crime in California has gone down year over year, but the number of direct files has gone up in felonies and other serious crimes. Those kids who are still committing crimes are far more likely to be tried as adults — which doesn’t seem like a great way to help them. As Males said, it just doesn’t seem rehabilitative, because when you put a kid in an adult prison, maybe they don’t have programs that are geared to a younger person.”

Related links:

California legislature hears pros and cons of statewide sentencing reform

Justice by Geography: Do Politics Influence the Prosecution of Youth as Adults?

Direct File Rates Arbitrarily Rising for Youth of Color