California’s long-entrenched reputation as a threshold state for authoring change and novel governmental approaches is well established. In many respects, California leads vanguard reform efforts that other states consider and often follow.
Not always, though. One criminal justice commentator notes that, when it comes to systemic reforms aimed at enhancing fairness and just outcomes, “California is catching up with other states.”
That expressed view seems unquestionable concerning certain aspects of the criminal system relating to juvenile offenders. A bottom-line takeaway from one recent national article spotlighting justice reforms relevant to adolescents stresses that California has lagged – not led – other states in recent years in adopting material equity-based changes. Evidence points especially to teens being tried in adult courts as proof that California has remained passive amid activism elsewhere.
A flurry of recent endorsements from Gov. Jerry Brown will seemingly change much of that. The state’s chief executive signed just yesterday a series of bills that the publication The Hill stresses will go far in “overhauling the state’s juvenile justice system.” Among other things, the legislation accomplishes this:
- Far fewer teenage offenders facing criminal charges in adult courts
- New minimum age threshold for criminal prosecution (12, excepting a few select crimes)
- Elimination in many juvenile cases of automatic penalties resulting in additional years of incarceration being tacked on
That last bullet point and related modifications are aimed at empowering sentencing judges through restoration of judicial discretion. Many justice commentators assert that judges’ oversight and powers have been unduly curtailed over many years pursuant to hardline policies embraced in the so-called War on Crime.
State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) played a key role in authoring the new laws. She says that Brown’s formal endorsement of the measures now makes them “real game-changers in the juvenile justice and criminal justice systems.”