Prop. 57 opens a door for juvenile offenders

By John Lam

With the passage of Proposition 57, Kid CAT will strive to build upon the positive changes in the law and community attitudes and rehabilitation initiatives which are giving juvenile offenders hope for freedom in the future.

“The passage of Proposition 57 on Nov. 8 represented a big step toward a more restorative approach toward addressing the systemic failures in prosecuting minors as adults,” said Charlie Spence, Kid CAT Chairman. “The adult criminal justice system is just not set up to help young people.”

The passage of Proposition 57 takes away the District Attorney’s discretionary power to try a juvenile as an adult and authorizes the juvenile court judge to take into consideration, “any relevant factor…not limited to, the minor’s age, maturity, intellectual capacity, physical, mental and emotional health at the time of the alleged offense…. [And] whether the minor can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction.”

“It is Kid CAT’s belief that all youth are capable of redemption given the right conditions through nurture, compassion and education opportunities,” said Spence. “Kids can grow and flourish into caring and productive members of their communities, and this can even take place in an adult system given the right conditions.”

In the words of first-term youth offender David Rodriguez on the passage of Proposition 57, “I consider myself fortunate. Had it not been for rehabilitative policies like AB1276 (a program that diverts youth offenders to lower level security prisons), I would’ve not been here in San Quentin to take advantage of the programming opportunities but be stuck somewhere in a level 4 maximum security prison, facing violence.”

As the California voters decided with Proposition 57, the criminal justice system continues to increase its focus on restorative justice approaches. “We at Kid CAT will continue to foster the idea that youth offenders can be empowered to make a difference through educating and mentoring others in their communities,” said Philip Melendez, Kid CAT Public Relations president. “We empower our communities through the programs we do and created here.”

In the last six months, Kid CAT has worked on the following projects to further its mission to empower and educate:

In June, Kid CAT created a class that specifically addresses the concerns of Youth Offender Program (YOP) population, offenders between the ages of 18-23.

In August, a public viewing in San Quentin of the film “The Mask You Live In” directed by Jennifer Siebel-Newsom, which features some of the men of Kid CAT sharing about how they understand masculinity.

In October, Kid CAT held a symposium entitled “The Value of Rehabilitation,” where more than 70 community guests, which included survivors of crimes, lawmakers and juvenile justice advocates, to discuss solutions toward creating a more holistic approach toward rehabilitation.

In November, 27 individuals graduated from Kid CAT First Step Curriculum after spending six months of intensive activities taught in eight modules ranging from Communications, Masculinity and Forgiveness to Compassion.

One of the many ways Kid CAT members practice empowerment is through making amends and accountability through service to their community.

This December, Kid CAT will be conducting their fifth annual holiday card decorating. Decorated cards will be given to the children in Oakland’s Children’s Hospital.

Also in December, Kid CAT will be conducting the fourth annual hygiene drive to raise awareness on the plight of homeless children.

This drive has successfully raised funds to purchase more than 1,000 hygienic kits to benefit homeless children in the Bay Area. If you would like to become involved, you can:

Get your family or friends to donate on your behalf by going to www.huckleberryyouth.org.

“We are inspired by the work that still needs to be done. Kid CAT wants to thank and acknowledge all who have advocated on the behalf of youthful offenders,” said Spence. “We also want to thank all the men and women who write to our Kid CAT Speaks page each week seeking correspondence courses to improve their lives and who are striving to make positive changes in their lives.”

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