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New Law Offers Teen Offenders a Future

Illustration by Kate Greenblatt

It is a universal agreement that murder is wrong, but the events which follow murder are often what is up for debate. Before September 30, 2018, California state allowed court cases involving 14 and 15-year-olds accused of serious crimes like murder or sexual assault to be tried in adult court. This gave the judge the power to sentence these teenagers to an unlimited number of years in prison.

On September 30, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill (SB) 1391, which eliminated this option. Since the signing, law prohibits minors 15 years or younger to ever be tried in adult court. This law takes necessary steps to improve California’s criminal justice system, and will make California a safer environment.

For many, upon hearing about teenage killers, the first concern is that they might be threatening to society. This bill is at the heart of that issue, and will help to make California safer. According to a report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the recidivism rate for juvenile offenders in California is 37.3 percent, while the statistic is almost double for adult prisoners. Juvenile hall is the more appropriate environment for these teenagers due to its emphasis on education and mental health, whereas putting youth into adult prisons can only cause them more harm.

Many who feel strongly that this bill should not have passed fear the outcomes of  severely dangerous young criminals re-entering society. Their concerns are certainly valid, however the 14 and 15-year-olds who benefit from the policy are not sadistic murderers. These offenders are young people whose circumstances and social context heavily contributed to the crime in question, and these people may succeed in rehabilitation. According to the CRC Health group, 75 percent of teen murders are related to gang violence, yet some of the most effective rehabilitation stories are about young men removed from gang context and shown an opportunity for education through juvenile hall.

Additionally, this law does not mean that every single one of these teens will be easily released after their time spent in juvie. When it comes to the few truly dangerous killers, they will be assessed before they are released and won’t be allowed back into society if it is deemed unsafe. In the long run, because of this bill,  more youth across the state will have second chances to become productive members of society.