Blogs from March, 2017

attorney questioning a teenage girl on the witness stand

new poll shows that a large majority of Americans want the juvenile justice system to focus more on rehabilitating young offenders and dwell far less on punishing them and locking them up. According to a news report, the poll of 1,001 adults showed agreement across racial and political lines with people saying kids who commit crimes deserve a second chance and that society is better off for helping rehabilitate youth rather than throw them in prison.

The survey, sponsored by the Youth First Initiative, shows that participants want “more aggressive rehabilitative efforts.” These results are just the latest piece of evidence showing that Americans want a different approach to juvenile justice. About 80 percent of participants said they favored education and preventive measures over a punitive approach when they were asked a series of questions about youth offenders and their impact on society. About 90 percent of those surveyed also said families should be involved in designing treatment and juveniles charged with crimes.

Rehab Favored by a Majority of Americans

One of the results of the survey that proved encouraging was that white people who did not have a college degree – a sturdy base of support for President Donald Trump – had the same opinions on reforming the juvenile justice system as did minority respondents. Advocated for youth and children say this should not come as a surprise because most people genuinely believe that children are different from adults and should be treated differently by the criminal justice system. They deserve a second chance.

The other reason for this belief among people is that there is proof rehabilitation works. We’ve seen a 50 percent drop in youth incarceration over the past decades and there has been a corresponding drop in the arrests of juveniles. This shows that locking up kids leads to more crime. But when you treat them with compassion and dignity and provide them with necessary services such as education and vocational training, it reduces recidivism rates drastically, which benefits the society at large.

Generally speaking, minors under the age of 18 are tried in the juvenile court system. However, there are exceptions where minors may be tried as adults. There are some crimes where minors 14 and up must be tried as adults under the law. Some examples of violent crimes where juveniles may be tried as adults include murder, rape, forcible sex, lewd and lascivious acts on a child, forcible sexual penetration and sodomy or oral copulation causing great bodily injury.  For such acts a juvenile could possibly get a substantial sentence and may need to contact an experienced sex crime lawyer.

Understanding the Juvenile Justice System

California’s adult justice system has punishment of offenders as a goal, while the state’s juvenile justice system has the goal of treatment and rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. California’s juvenile justice system has an array of methods and programs for addressing juvenile crime, as it takes into account the severity of the offense and the background of the offender. The methods include treatment programs, detention, incarceration and community supervision. There are also provisions within the system for informal and formal probation. Since the goal here is rehabilitation, many more agencies have a role to play including schools, social service agencies and nonprofit organizations.

When a juvenile offender is arrested, a law enforcement officer has the discretion to release the youth to his or her parents or to take him or her to juvenile hall. The county probation department then has the discretion to accept and book the offender or not, in which case, the disposition of the juvenile is left to the police. In many cases, crowded juvenile halls accept only the most violent arrestees and turn away the rest. If the offender is placed in juvenile hall, the probation department of the district attorney may choose to file a petition or charges.

If a juvenile’s case is tried in juvenile court, he or she may be incarcerated, placed on probation, in a foster or group home or sent to the Youth Authority as a ward of the state. If a juvenile was tried and convicted in adult court, he or she can be sentenced to the Department of Corrections, but could be kept in Youth Authority until the age of 24. County probation departments play an important role in the juvenile justice system because they not only make recommendations to judges on placements and sentencing, but also supervise these young offenders in the community, provide rehabilitation and training services to probationers and operate juvenile halls.

Problems with California’s Juvenile Justice System

Even though the goal of the California juvenile court system is rehabilitation, it doesn’t mean that a child who breaks the law gets off without punishment. A juvenile can still be punished with incarceration in a juvenile hall, camp or ranch, payment of fines and restitutions, community service, placement in a foster home, probation and attendance in victim impact classes. No matter how noble its objectives may be, the juvenile justice system in California has been criticized for its failures.

The California Youth Authority has been accused of deplorable conditions in its facilities including excessive use of force, confining children in cells for 23 hours a day, failing to provide children with medical care and mental health services, using psychotropic medications to gain control and perpetuating a culture riddled with violence.

Juvenile convictions can follow a young person well into his or her future. These convictions count as strikes under California’s Three Strikes Law. Juvenile adjudications could lead to sex offender registration in California. However, in cases involving less serious offenses, your child may be able to seal his or her juvenile record provided he or she fulfills the sentence and remains crime-free for a certain period of time.

If your child has been arrested on suspicion of a crime, our Orange County juvenile crime defense lawyers can fight on your child’s behalf. We can help get charges dismissed, advocate on your child’s behalf for rehabilitation instead of incarceration and in many cases get your child’s juvenile record expunged so he or she can get a fresh start and that much-needed second chance.