Youth and Justice
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Our courts impact our young people and our community at large in many ways which are not always obvious, but which always matter. A judge who is mindful of these impacts can have a hugely positive impact on the lives of young people and can contribute to making our communities safer and healthier. A judge who is unaware can cause significant harm, or miss opportunities to set young people who encounter the justice system on a positive path.
This is probably what many most commonly think of when they think of young people and the law: A young person commits a criminal offense and enters the criminal justice system.
If the offender is over 14 and commits a very serious offense (such as murder), California law provides they can be treated as an adult, so as to better protect the public from violence. It is the role of judges to implement laws within the Constitution that are passed by the Legislature to protect the public.
However, the vast majority of juvenile offenders are handled by a justice system separate from that for adult offenders. The experience these young people have can make the difference between getting the guidance and opportunity they need to turn their lives around and become productive citizens, or living lives of alienation, despair, and all too often, crime.
Detention is not always the best answer for minor juvenile offenses. It is important that judges be aware of alternatives. There are many good programs offered through government services, community non-profit organizations, and faith-based groups that can give young people the non-punitive discipline they may need while offering educational, health, counseling and other services to give them a chance to get their lives on a positive track. One example is the "Strength-Based Family Approach" of South Bay Community Services, partnering with law enforcement, schools, health providers and other social agencies. https://southbaycommunityservices.org/youth-prevention-intervention/
Having been personally very close to adult citizens who were in the system as young people, I know the experience a young person has in the system can change their life for better or worse. When I was Mayor of Chula Vista, we brought together our Police with our Parks and Recreation Department, non-profit groups and youth leaders to create programs to give disadvantaged youth more options both recreationally and educationally, to develop job and business skills, and to have positive relationships with police officers. Crime dropped.
By being aware of options and community resources, judges can ensure the system more often plays a positive role in helping troubled young people, and making the entire community safer.
It's Not All About Juvenile Offenders
Young people's lives can be profoundly affected by our court system without any alleged wrongdoing on their part. Children with special education needs, children without parents, and children caught up in civil disputes can all come before a judge. Custody and support disputes can produce life-changing consequences for children. Judges must always be mindful of the impact these proceedings can have on children who are the most vulnerable citizens affected by our courts. As an attorney who has prosecuted crimes against children and handled hundreds of child support cases, and as a public official who has helped develop programs for youth and worked with youth advocates, I am uniquely qualified to assure that justice is delivered for our young people.