LA hosts juvenile justice summit: ‘Smart on Safety’

Setting an agenda for the next steps in California

By John Lam

A panel of California’s criminal justice reform leaders recently held a summit to discuss what’s next on the agenda.

“A ballroom full of lawmakers, academics and criminal justice reform advocates, with a sprinkling of state and local officials…gathered in LA’s Millennium Biltmore Hotel” for (an) all-day summit called “Smart on Safety” to discuss next steps in the world of California’s justice reform, Witness LA reported.

“Among the day’s most persuasive voices calling for criminal justice reform was former film producer Scott Budnick, best known for producing the Hangover movie franchise, who left Hollywood behind to found the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC),” according to Witness LA.

Budnick was instrumental in the passage of SB 260 and SB 261, a law that gives a second chance at parole to kids who are serving adult sentences for crimes committed before the age of 18. 

Budnick shared the experience he had with a youth offender who is now about 60 years old at California’s Pelican Bay State Prison.

“I can’t get it out of my memory,” said Budnick. The man had been incarcerated for around 40 years for a teenage crime. Thirty of those years had been in isolation.

“And we told him about SB 260, he started weeping…knowing that he had the ability to now come home,” Budnick continued. Because the man was still in segregated housing, Budnick could not talk to him face-to-face. Instead “he stuck his little finger through the hole in the case, and he shook my finger and said, ‘You’re the first person I’ve ever touched in 30 years.’ ”

Budnick said he next wants to focus on sentencing enhancements, which can turn a relatively short sentence into one of multiple decades for young people, particularly if he or she is a gang member.

Budnick also announced that he is working to raise $300 million to launch a new social justice-focused film company to “tell the right stories, and change the narrative,” Budnick said.

Fellow panel member Elizabeth Calvin, a children’s rights attorney for Human Rights Watch, called for additional reforms such as ending solitary confinement for juveniles and how juveniles get prosecuted as adults.

“You’re the first person I’ve ever touched in 30 years”

Calling for a repeal of Proposition 21, a ballot initiative that was passed in 2000 that increased the criminal penalty for crimes committed by youths, Robert Rooks, organizing director for Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ) said “Prop. 21 has been talked about a number of times today. It’s so past time to stop babies as young as 14 being tried as adults. So it’s time to go to the ballot to overturn Prop. 21,” reported Witness LA.

Panelist Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen spoke about how prosecutors could make a bigger difference.

Rosen shared what he learned from his tour of Germany’s progressive prison system. “I began to understand…the distinction between crime victim and defendant is often artificial, and many of the defendants we were prosecuting were victimized early in their lives…and that if we did a better job helping people that were victims of crime, we may have fewer defendants in the future.” 

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