If some Santa Clara officials have their way, that county will soon become the second in the state to offer separated “pathways” for adults and juveniles. According to the Mercury News, County Supervisor Dave Cortese said in his state of the county address that he would like to see the jailing of juveniles come to a halt, limiting incarceration to only those over 16 years old.
Currently, the policy cautions against jailing anyone under 13 though the county is known to have incarcerated kids as young as ten. If things go his way, Cortese would like to see offenders aged 13 and under diverted to community treatment centers where it’s assumed they can get more help at a lower risk of harm and future criminality.
Juvenile Court Judge Patrick Tondreau is seeking change in the system as well, promoting a goal that would split the probation department in two—one for adults and one for juveniles. He says if the administrative functions are shared, the split won’t raise costs at all.
The Juvenile Justice Commission supports Judge Tondreau’s suggestion, recommending the County model their system after San Francisco’s, creating two probation departments. Another idea has the department remaining under one umbrella, with two different chiefs reporting to the same director.
Of course these recommendations aren’t without critics. The union is speaking out against proposed changes as are a few officers and Chiefs in the field. They state there’s nothing wrong with the system as is and splitting it would only create organizational chaos.
Despite their criticisms, those opposed to the recommendations are missing the point—early entrance into the adult justice system has been repeatedly shown to have a negative impact on the mental wellbeing and the future criminality of juveniles.
As Juvenile Court Judge Tondreau says, “They are not just short people; they’re still growing up.” And until they are grown, they need to be afforded every opportunity for rehabilitation. They must be given the tools to succeed before the system simply turns their back as they so often do to adults.
The incarceration of juveniles isn’t only a risk factor for their future incarceration as adults, it’s dangerous. Children are not mentally or emotionally equipped to deal with the stresses of incarceration and shouldn’t be locked up as punishment.
If Santa Clara County makes the suggested changes, it could lead the way in juvenile justice reform across the state, and that’s something all parents and concerned citizens should support.
The California juvenile justice system can be confusing to a family thrust into it. If you or your child are facing charges, contact us today to discuss the details of your case and what it could potentially mean for your future.