SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California was once a leader on so-called tough-on-crime laws, but the state is slowly shifting its approach to juvenile justice.
“We had 3 strikes coming out, trying juveniles as adults, (but) some of these juvenile offenders may be worth saving,” said Sacramento criminal defense attorney Mike Wise.
He no longer has to worry about sending his young clients to prison. Newly signed Senate Bill 1391 stops the practice of trying kids 15 and under in adult court, even for murder charges.
Another new law sets a minimum age for prosecution. Kids age 12 and under will now be excluded from juvenile court, except in the case of serious crimes under Senate Bill 439.
“We’re focusing more on therapy, on rehabilitation and reform and recognizing that they really aren’t the same as an adult, and it doesn’t mitigate the pain of the victims’ families,” said Wise.
Those victims’ families fought with district attorneys to save the system.
“Herein lies the truth; not everyone can change. Not everyone is capable regardless of their age,” one victim said.
But Democratic lawmakers convinced the governor, with science that says otherwise.
“We’re clear that these kids are at those critical teenage years. They’re not yet adults, even those who get caught up in the justice system, so we have to view them in that same lens,” said state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D)-Los Angeles.
Mitchell is behind a series of so-called equity and justice bills passed in the legislature in the last two years, including her measure last year ending life sentences for teens.
“It’s a legislative effort to give them a chance at reform before locking them up forever,” said Wise.