Newly elected San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins reinstated the policy of charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for crimes that she called “egregious,” wrote Megan Cassidy in The San Francisco Chronicle.
Former District Attorney Chesa Boudin had ended the practice, but Jenkins believes that juvenile prosecution does not allow for proper rehabilitation because such prosecutions typically release offenders at age 23, the article says.
“By the age of 23, can we have done what we need to rehabilitate somebody who has committed a very heinous crime?” Jenkins asked in The Chronicle.
According to the article, Jenkins formed a Juvenile Review Team that will form an opinion about whether to seek adult charges. The team consists of the head of the juvenile division, the chief of victim services, and the chief of the criminal division that would prosecute the case. All three of them report to the District Attorney’s office.
The Juvenile Review Team’s opinion will go to Jenkins, who will make the charging decision, but state law says that the ultimate decision rests with a judge. State law does not allow adult prosecution of anyone under 16, regardless of the crime.
Crimes “heinous in nature” potentially prosecuted under this policy include attempted murder, forcible sexual assault, kidnapping, torture and aggravated mayhem.
Smart Justice California, a criminal justice advocacy group, voiced concerns about the change. A prosecutor “who is at all committed to both science and fairness must keep kids out of the adult system,” said Anne Irwin, the group’s executive director, in an e-mailed response to The Chronicle, adding, “Putting them into adult prisons all but guarantees they will lose the opportunity to get the care that kids need.”
Juvenile proceedings emphasize rehabilitation, while adult courts focus more on punishment. Similarly, Juvenile Hall offers more behavioral treatment and mental health for young offenders than adult prison. Youth convicted as adults could end up transferred from juvenile facilities to adult prisons to serve the remaining time on their sentences after turning 18.
Yoel Haile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s director of Criminal Justice Program, called Black and Latino youth at greater risk of prosecution white youth. “Of the 11 young people whose cases were transferred to adult court in San Francisco from 2006 to 2016… none were white.”
Smart Justice California’s Irwin said that Jenkins’s policy “purports to meet this minimum standard for a moral prosecutor, but in reality, it also leaves room for her office to charge many kids as adults.”
Jenkins says that she generally does not believe in charging youth as adults, and she confirmed that, in the past, youth of color were disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, the article said. Jenkins said that no juvenile cases prosecuted by Boudin should have transferred to adult court.
“As a D.A.’s office, we must retain prosecutorial discretion to ensure that we protect the public and deliver justice in our most serious and egregious cases that is fair and proportional,” she told The Chronicle.” Jenkins’s policy took effect September 13.