Last week, the California Supreme Court upheld a statute of immeasurable importance to the future of our state. SB 1391 continues to mandate that juveniles aged 14 and 15, who until recently were subject to being tried as adults, can no longer be tried in adult court. We hope the state continues to past reform minded legislation for juveniles and that the courts continue to uphold these approaches. Next up should be giving juveniles the right to a jury trial, since there is no reason a child’s rights should be limited unless society’s duty to protect them clearly outweighs the benefits of allowing them to share the rights of adults.
Young juveniles involved in crime are more victims than perpetrators, and tend to experience trouble at home, abuse, neglect, and lack of guidance. This amendment provides a relief for juveniles as they are often exposed and given to an adult system that they are unequipped to handle and further damages them. There has been extensive research that outlines the mental capacity of 14 and 15 year olds and how their lack of development keeps them from possessing the required knowledge and intent to be convicted and severely punished for a crime. Instead, “youth sentenced in the juvenile justice system are entitled to education and rehabilitative services that they would not be entitled to in the adult system” (p.15 BJA, 2000) As a result of having access to rehabilitative services, juveniles are less likely to recidivate and have a higher chance of building greater family connection and economic opportunities according. (CDC, 2007; Redding, 2010)
Bureau of Justice Assistance reports, ”the adult criminal justice system is predicated on punishment and offers limited rehabilitative services for prisoners. As a result, youth in the adult system often receive lengthy sentences in dangerous prison environments, where they suffer from high rates of violence, abuse and suicide.” (p.2 BJA, 2000) It is in the interests of public safety to help rehabilitate young minds rather than further expose them to hard criminals, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.
This line of action that puts rehabilitation before retribution can effectively be applied to our approach regarding individuals who suffer from addiction thrown into the criminal justice system. While the circumstances surrounding juveniles are different, both addicts and juveniles experience diminished mental capacity surrounding intent to commit crimes. It serves both efficiency and public safety to consider an individual's mental capacity when determining the terms of their punishment and rehabilitation.
The ramifications of holistic approaches to individuals convicted of crimes produce less crime, increased public safety and an increase in overall societal health. (The Effects of Holistic Defense on Criminal Justice Outcomes, Harvard Law Review, 2019) “Data shows that teens who are either not caught or are given non-custodial sentences for their crimes do much better in terms of employment, education, and reduced recidivism then those who are incarcerated or otherwise removed from the community.” (Hart, 2013)
Dr. Carl Hart is a tenured professor of neuroscience and psychology at Columbia, and an advocate for reformative justice, an approach to justice in which the response to a crime is a meeting between the offender, the victim and their community. The focus of these meetings emphasizes accountability, making amends and repairing harm.
At Margolin and Lawrence we continue to advocate for youth who become subject to the criminal justice system. We have helped many youth navigate through the juvenile system and provide support for resources and rehabilitation. We are avid supporters and teachers of Street Law which provides education on the law, guidance for interactions with police and individuals rights regarding tenancy, employment, immigration and more.
The Effects of Holistic Defense on Criminal Justice Outcomes Harvard Law Review VOLUME 132 JANUARY 2019 NUMBER 3 https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3026&context=faculty_scholarship
Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). (2000). Juveniles in Adult Prisons and Jails: A National Assessment. At: https://www.ncjs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/182503.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2007) Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Youth from the Juvenile to the Adult Justice System. At: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr5609.pdf