By Emily Goldman
San Francisco, CA
(Editor’s note: On September 13, 2022, Emily Goldman, the Managing Attorney of the Youth Defender Unit of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, issued the following statement in response to interim San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’s newly announced juvenile justice policies which opened the door to try youth as adults in San Francisco.)
Any movement towards putting children in adult prisons is a step backwards that ignores scientific research and recent criminal justice reforms, is a direct threat to community health and safety, and is harmful to our youth and families.
Youth accused of serious crimes often are the victims of trauma, violence, and abuse themselves, and are among those needing the most support and intervention. Recognizing these needs, in recent years, we have seen more resources being directed to the benefit of vulnerable and at-risk young people.
There are numerous examples of system-involved youth progressing because of the resources allocated to them in the juvenile court and they are now developing into productive members of society.
We have had youth, who could have been charged as adults, instead engage in restorative justice, and we have seen victims who have felt heard and who have told us that the process has helped them heal.
Youth who have had the opportunity to learn about the harms they have caused and received the services they need are much less likely to recidivate. These practices, and others, are in line with the overall directive of the juvenile court, which is rehabilitation.
The alternative of sending youth to adult prisons increases the likelihood of the revolving door, damages and traumatizes children, and doesn’t advance the goal of community safety.
Trying youth as adults has been widely rejected as harmful and counterproductive because the research consistently shows that youth who are subjected to the adult system have worse outcomes in terms of mental health, physical health, and rehabilitation.
Children in adult prisons are 500% more likely to be sexually assaulted, 200% more likely to be beaten by staff, and 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon than juveniles confined in a juvenile facility.
This change of policy announced today by District Attorney Jenkins harkens back to the disastrous era of the 1990’s which is thought of as ‘the dark ages’ by many, where youth were labeled as “super-predators” (which turned out to be a myth), where overcharging was routine, and for a significant time period, where children could be sentenced to life without parole.
While District Attorney Jenkins pays lip service to acknowledging that children deserve a second chance and need supportive services, her policy announced today ignores the data and the history which has shown the ineffective, counterproductive, and dangerous practice of trying youth as adults under any circumstances.