Measure Aimed at Juvenile Justice Reform in California to Appear on Nov. Ballot

An initiative sponsored by Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown that would make it more difficult to try juveniles in adult courts was officially approved for a spot on the state’s Nov. 8 ballot today.

The ballot measure, known as the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, would amend state law to grant judges the ultimate power over whether to remove juvenile offenders from juvenile court to be tried in the adult criminal justice system. In order to become eligible for the November election, the initiative needed 585,407 valid petition signatures.

The initiative would reverse a 2000 proposition that gave prosecutors the authority to decide where to charge youth.

The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act would also overturn strict sentencing limits for nonviolent adult offenders in the state that have been on the book for 40 years, making thousands of offenders eligible for parole sooner and helping them access more rehabilitative services.

County prosecutors in the state are currently able to charge youth as young as age 14 in adult court, which often can mean longer sentences, harsher penalties and little opportunity to access rehabilitative resources like those available in the juvenile justice system, according to advocates.

“There’s no single decision that the state makes that’s more important about a child than whether that young person ends up in the adult system and face adult penalties or whether they’ll be kept in the juvenile justice [system] that has services and rehabilitative options and educational opportunities,” said Elizabeth Calvin, a children’s rights attorney for Human Rights Watch.

A report released earlier this month by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) documented a disturbing trend toward widening racial disparities among those youth who were sent to the adult court for certain offenses.

As The Imprint reported, an already conspicuous racial gap has expanded to an alarming degree over the past decade. While 4.5 black youths were transferred to an adult court for every white youth in California in 2003, that number more than doubled to 11.3 black youths for every white youth in 2014.

The CJCJ report also documented variation among California’s 58 counties in terms of the rate of youth who are sent to adult court by county district attorneys. Overall, youth are transferred at a rate of 22.9 per 100,000, though Los Angeles County was a notable outlier with its rate of 3.4.

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