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Juveniles Tried as Adults Get a Second Chance

L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón continues to fight against juvenile offenders from being tried as adults. Now, those who were previously tried in an adult court could have a second chance at freedom. Keep reading to learn more.

Prop 57

In 2016, voters passed Proposition 57, a criminal justice reform bill that prevents prosecutors from trying juveniles as adults without approval from a judge. Additionally, this bill also gives youth who were previously tried as adults to retroactively pursue a transfer hearing to get a second chance.

Transfer hearings give the prosecution the responsibility to convince a judge that the alleged juvenile offender should be tried as an adult. Based on their argument and the evidence provided, the judge decides whether to send the case to a criminal court or continue the juvenile process.

If the judge decides to allow the case to be tried in juvenile court, the defendant will likely receive a reduced sentence. According to the law, defendants in juvenile court cannot be incarcerated in a juvenile facility past the age of 25.

However, despite the overwhelming support from California voters in 2016, Prop 57 is creating a divide between victim rights advocates and criminal justice reform supporters. As a result, District Attorney Gascón faces mounting pressure as he continues to push for reform.

Restorative Justice

In 2019, California police made over 43,000 juvenile arrests. Out of these cases, over 52% were arrested for misdemeanors or minor infractions. Many of these offenders face reeducation through the juvenile system, but their freedom could be in jeopardy for those unfortunate enough to go through the adult court system.

According to the Department of Justice, out of the total number of juveniles tried in a California adult court, over 75% were convicted. Offenders in this position could face harsh prison sentences and the potential to become criminally-minded.

In other words, offenders who could have benefited from reeducation could potentially become actual lifelong criminals due to their time in an adult prison. The adult criminal justice system is geared toward punishment, not reform, and anyone serving time in a jail or prison learns hard lessons about life and authority.

Prop 57 represents a change for change and forgiveness that could do more to uplift offenders than a long sentence in an adult prison.

Victims Speak Out

Prop 57 is a significant step in the right direction, but at the same time, many victims and their families are concerned that they are being denied justice. Offenders who are believed to be under strict lockdown in an adult facility could be released under Prop 57.

This raises concerns about retribution – whether these offenders will lash out against the people they believe put them behind bars. Reoffending is also a concern.

In general, juvenile cases don’t go to an adult court unless there is clear evidence that the defendant willfully broke the law and/or the crime was extremely violent. Should these individuals be released, they could do the same crime and avoid punishment because of double jeopardy.

Who’s Right?

As Gascón continues to fight for criminal justice and Prop 57, the genuine concerns from victims will need to be addressed. It’s undeniable that juvenile offenders could benefit more from reeducation and that the old way of trying youth in adult courts is missing the mark.

However, reform never happens without pushback. Victims of violent crimes or the families of those killed by a group or individual feel the need for justice – they need closure. This is a very understandable and valid perspective that shouldn’t be discounted in the process of reform.

Ultimately, the answer to whether Prop 57 provides redemption or creates the opportunity for retaliation is somewhere in the middle. Not all convicted juvenile offenders have the potential for reoffending or the urge to retaliate against the prosecution. At the same time, inmates in adult prisons go through a rough education that can change their way of thinking and warp their understanding of right and wrong from a young age.