They called for age-appropriate care and support, highlighting that children tried as juveniles are less likely to be rearrested and that, between 2006 and 2016, none of the children transferred to adult court in SF were white.
Special to the Vanguard
San Francisco, CA – Following interim District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’ announcement that her office would begin charging some 16 and 17-year-olds as adults, youth and members of the Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC) and Reimagine Youth Justice (RYJ) Coalition rallied outside of the D.A.’s office, urging her to refrain from charging any youth as adults. The group was denied entry when they tried to enter the office to speak with the D.A. and deliver a set of demands for age-appropriate community-based preventions and interventions for youth.
“Young people deserve love and support in their communities so they can succeed and thrive”, says Tenaya Jones, a Self-Determination Coordinator with YWFC. “Charging youth as adults is the opposite of what we need!”
D.A. Jenkins’ new policy marks a reversal of her predecessor’s policy of not charging any youth as adults, and runs afoul of the principles and trajectory of California’s youth justice movement. Backed by science and data, California voters and lawmakers have in recent years passed several laws and policies to treat children like children and undo harmful, draconian juvenile justice policies of the past.
“This policy goes against everything we know about brain science and what youth in SF have been fighting for – what we’ve been fighting for,” said Ari Duarte, community organizer with YWFC. “We won’t stand by and let youth be criminalized, traumatized, and harmed anymore.”
Research on this topic is clear: Youth need developmentally-appropriate care and support. They have worse outcomes when they are charged as adults, and Black and Latino youth bear the brunt of punitive practices. Ally Duarte, a Self-Determination Coordinator with YWFC states, “When we have the opportunity to learn about the harm we have caused and get the services we need – like restorative justice – we are more likely to succeed.”
Adolescent brains don’t completely develop until youth are well into their 20s, providing youth with the unique ability to change and transform themselves when they are provided with age-appropriate support and services. On the other hand, youth who are transferred to the adult system are more likely to recidivate. One study showed that the rearrest rate was 29% higher for children sentenced in the adult criminal court than those sentenced in juvenile court. Another study found that 16-year-olds tried as juveniles are far less likely to be rearrested than those tried as adults. What’s more, adult prisons can be traumatic and put children at risk of further violence and harm. 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 children in a juvenile facility.
In the 80s and 90s in California, the number of kids in adult prisons surged. Black and Latino youth were the ones who paid the price. Black youth in California were over eight times more likely than white youth to be tried as adults in 2016, and Latino youth were almost three times more likely. Of the 11 young people whose cases were transferred to adult court in San Francisco between 2006 and 2016, six were Black, three were Latino and zero were white.
“I am one of those 11 youth in 2016 who was harmed by being charged as an adult and forced into the cycle of incarceration,” says Lucero Herrera, Lead Organizer with YWFC. “This is why we need to be consulted when institutions want to create, revise, and eliminate policies that will impact the way we experience systems. We are best positioned to identify alternatives to incarceration, criminalization, and family separation.”
Their demands call on the SF District Attorney, Brooke Jenkins, to:
- Revise her policy to make sure NO youth is charged as an adult.
- Ensure NO youth are being charged with enhancements.
- Ensure there are NO youth transfers to the adult system.
- Listen and respect youth as agents of change, and incorporate the work that youth have been doing to transform their communities into her policies.
- Invest in community-based alternatives to incarceration that offer young people the love and support they deserve in the community