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Southern California Voices / A Forum for Community
Issues | Youth Opinion

The Experts Say Otherwise

May 17, 1997


Mayor, Inglewood, former juvenile court judge

I think it's a terrible piece of legislation that permits the prosecution of 13-year-olds but doesn't give one dime to crime prevention. We can't build enough prisons or hire enough police officers to prevent crimes, but one of the things we can do is effectively educate our children so they are productive individuals. We should be spending our money for prevention rather than to warehouse our children in prisons with adults.

If a 13-year-old has committed murder, he has no business being prosecuted as an adult in place of putting him in an environment where he can be effectively educated and rehabilitated. To say a 13-year-old cannot be rehabilitated is absolutely obscene.

In my 15 years as a juvenile judge, I turned thousands of young people around by holding them responsible for their conduct after their first crime. I had them placed on probation and they were required to return to court in three months. They were ordered to go to school, ordered to maintain a "C" average, ordered to follow the orders of their parents, ordered to return home immediately after school. If they didn't follow the requirements, they had to pay the price. I stopped them before they really got started.

You think about what happens to a 13-year-old put in a penitentiary with adults. When that youngster comes out, he will be an animal because he will have been treated that way.

Our young people are our greatest natural resource. Instead of looking for a way to imprison them for life, we should be looking for ways to effectively educate them to make productive citizens out of them.


Los Angeles County probation director, Office of Prevention Services

The House's legislation is not a balanced approach to combating or preventing juvenile crime. There is a need for tough measures for juvenile criminals but there is an even greater need to provide the juveniles who are most at risk of entering the criminal justice system with early intervention and prevention services, such as mentoring, counseling, academic assistance, truancy abatement and family counseling.

The get-tough-and-lock-'em-up approach will not be an adequate solution and does not address any of the root causes of juvenile crime. This approach will only further cause family and community disruption by incarcerating the juveniles for long periods of time. The juveniles, when returned to the community, will be tougher and will have learned criminal behavior from the older offenders. Without having been provided rehabilitation, they will not know how to survive in mainstream society without resorting to crime.

Children are by definition not adults. They do not have the same experience or coping skills to deal with their external environment. Basically, the external environment many of these children live in is negative and they don't have the ability or resources to do much about it.

All violent crimes are wrong, despite the age of the criminal. We should have appropriate responses as a community that takes the age, circumstances and social history into consideration.

We need to remember lessons learned that led to laws separating juveniles from adults. History tells us that putting them together was not beneficial to the public safety of the community.

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