We commend Gov. Jerry Brown for signing into law SB 1391, which will end the transfer of 14- and 15-year-olds into adult criminal court, and SB 439 to end the prosecution of children younger than 12. With his signature the governor is acknowledging that prison is no place for young people, and that the harsh conditions of prisons are not the best way to respond to the mistakes that children make, nor provide the support services they need.
Black and Latinx young people make up 80% of incarcerated youth in California, and across the country, these children are more likely to be sentenced to adult court. A majority of youth in prison have histories with the child welfare system related to abuse, neglect and other forms of trauma. Many of them have grown up in neighborhoods where the education and health systems have failed to provide them with the support they deserve. Incarceration isn’t going to heal these children or help their families. We need a different approach, one rooted in community and centered on health, education and respect for our young people.
We have the tools and the research to pursue a different and a more effective path toward repairing harm and encouraging healing. Restorative justice is an example of an alternative to incarceration that provides a way for young people to make it right with those they have harmed and truly learn from their mistakes.
There is growing momentum to end youth incarceration, close youth prisons and invest in community-models that meet the needs of young people and their families. We appreciate Gov. Brown’s leadership in taking another important step forward in doing the right thing for our young people.