How disappointing to read our sheriff’s and prosecutor’s positions regarding the new juvenile justice law (“New juvenile justice law raises concerns).
Here’s a true story about a wealthy private school graduation ceremony I attended. The headmaster joked about the “pranks” and “mistakes” that the graduating seniors had committed, including minor thefts, trespassing and property damage, underage alcohol and marijuana use, and fistfights. He went on to forecast and praise the senior’s newly developing maturity. He expected them to succeed as law-abiding, productive people. I listened to these descriptions, noticing the privilege these well-to-do youth enjoyed. Their mistakes were not perceived as indications of a criminal character or predictive of future offenses, but simply part of the maturation process. Their parents and school officials disciplined them, yet also, in the unlikely event that they were picked up by the police, hired lawyers to protect them when needed. They didn’t need to go through a court procedure in order to learn their lessons.
Why do we need this law? The new law provides the same protection to people who don’t grow up in such privilege. Any child of low-income parents, regardless of race, had less access to lawyers prior to this law. Adults and wealthy children accused of crimes already have this protection, and the justice system works to convict those who are guilty. The same should be true for all youth, who are more vulnerable to coercion, especially since more youth of color are stopped and interrogated by police due to our implicit biases.
Disproportionate adjudication and incarceration of Black, Indigenous and youth of color will decrease with this law. Did you notice that the reporter states that a third of people exonerated of crimes made false confessions, and a third of people exonerated of murder were juveniles when they allegedly committed the crimes.
Why do people falsely confess? Who defines the “reasonable pressure” that Prosecutor Banks describes and how do we protect youth against unreasonable pressure? Black youth are especially vulnerable to involvement in court proceedings, with court involvement four times the rate of other racial groups. Are these disparities acceptable to you? If so, ask yourself why you are willing to sacrifice these children’s futures. Protection for our community is still available via the justice system, but now with equal protection for our youth.