Proposition 21: Ineffective Policy

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Proposition 21, also known as “the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998,” was passed in California in 2000. Its primary goal was to raise penalties for crimes committed by young people, especially those involved with gangs. Although it aimed to tackle and reduce youth and gang-related offenses, I maintain that the drawbacks it brought upon both the younger generation and society outweigh its benefits. Thus, I am against Proposition 21 due to its ineffectiveness as a policy.

Proposition 21 aims to enhance penalties for crimes committed by young individuals and incorporate more youth offenders into the adult criminal justice system. This is meant to allow stricter punishments that would deter youths from engaging in serious criminal activities. The proposition brings about significant changes to the California juvenile justice system, including increased punishment for gang-related felonies such as home invasion robbery, carjacking, witness intimidation, and drive-by shootings. It also requires adult trials for juveniles 14 years or older accused of murder or specific sex offenses. Furthermore, informal probation for juveniles committing felonies is eliminated, removing the possibility of having their criminal records cleared after good behavior during probation. The proposition also mandates the registration of gang-related offenses and authorizes wiretapping for gang activities. In addition, it designates additional crimes, such as recruiting for gang activities, as violent and serious felonies, resulting in longer sentences. Lastly, Proposition 21 introduces the death penalty as a punishment option for gang-related murder (Woods, pg. 1).

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The proposition aims to hinder more youths from committing serious crimes by prosecuting those crimes with harsher sentences. This is expected to reduce youth crime rates and protect Californians from criminals who don’t respect human life, as stated by The League of Women Voters (2000). While these changes could effectively detain youth offenders responsible for murder, rape, or extreme violent acts, they also have significant detrimental effects on the youth population and society as a whole. It’s important to note that the proposition only addresses surface-level problems related to youth and gang-related crimes instead of addressing their root causes. Supporters argue that age should not be an excuse for committing such acts and believe that Proposition 21 imposes real consequences for gang members, rapists, and murderers, eliminating perceived leniency in current laws. They also argue that while the Three Strikes law has reduced adult crime rates, juvenile crime remains a serious issue that needs attention (League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, 2000).

The justice system requires a overhaul for various reasons, and Proposition 21 aims to address these issues. However, it is important to acknowledge that the previous justice system already permitted juveniles as young as 14 who were gang members or children to be tried and sentenced as adults at the discretion of juvenile courts. Contrary to popular belief, statistics demonstrate that juvenile crimes have been steadily decreasing due to zero tolerance policies and longer confinement for repeat offenders. The perception that youth crime is worsening has been fueled by fear generated by news reports on violent youth and studies conducted by criminologists like John Dilulio, who predicted the emergence of a new type of juvenile predators called ‘superpredators’ (Woods, pg. 30).

Proposition 21 aims to strengthen “zero tolerance” laws by incarcerating a greater number of young offenders as adults and imposing longer prison sentences. However, this approach has negative consequences for both youth individuals and society as a whole. It denies these young individuals the essential rehabilitation services provided by most juvenile detention facilities, hindering their reintegration into society after serving their sentence. Research shows that sending young criminals to adult prisons significantly increases the likelihood of repeat offenses compared to using juvenile facilities with rehabilitation programs (Woods, pg. 12). This demonstrates how the proposition only addresses superficial aspects of the issue without tackling its underlying causes. Although imprisoning more teenage offenders in adult prisons may temporarily decrease youth crime rates, it ultimately results in higher rates of reoffending and an increased number of crimes in the long term, thus merely managing rather than preventing youth crimes.

The implementation of the proposition would have negative consequences for state and local governments, requiring them to invest significant financial resources both initially and on a recurring basis in order to enforce new laws. The text of the proposition itself states that the state would incur annual costs exceeding $330 million due to increased expenses in the adult prison system, with additional one-time costs of approximately $750 million for constructing more incarceration facilities. Local governments would also face ongoing costs ranging from tens of millions to over $100 million per year for housing juvenile offenders before their cases are heard in adult court, along with one-time costs amounting to $200 million to $300 million. These substantial budget allocations could have been used for essential and preventive programs such as education and social worker agencies that address the root causes of the issue at hand. Additionally, there is a valid justification behind America’s practice of maintaining separate courts for adults and juveniles due to adolescents’ stages of “moral and psychological development” as well as “self-identity development,” during which they often fail to comprehend or consider the consequences of their actions.Furthermore, factors such as peer pressure and economic hardships provide additional support for the argument of treating juvenile crimes differently from adult crimes.

In her essay, Sherletta Wood argues that it is unjust to subject young people to adult punishment because they do not fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. Adolescents often exhibit impulsiveness and a propensity for taking risks, but their ability to understand the potential outcomes of these risky behaviors is limited. Studies using brain imaging have revealed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in assessing risk, is one of the last areas of the brain to develop. During adolescence, teenagers are expected to form relationships with peers and become more independent from their parents. Failing to establish a positive sense of identity during this crucial period can result in engaging in risky behaviors and facing psychological difficulties. Moreover, adolescents are highly vulnerable to peer pressure, further increasing their involvement in perilous activities (Woods, pg 11-12).

While opinions may vary on treating young offenders the same as adult offenders, I personally believe in holding adolescents responsible for serious crimes like premeditated murder. It is worth mentioning that the existing justice system already permits youths to be treated as adults when deemed necessary. As a result, Proposition 21, which aims to allocate substantial funds towards this procedure, is redundant and inefficient.

I oppose Proposition 21 due to its greater negative impact on society compared to its positive effects. The current juvenile justice system effectively handles youth crimes by allowing young offenders to be treated as adults if determined appropriate by the juvenile courts. Additionally, since the 1990s, there has been a steady decrease in youth crimes, rendering Proposition 21 unnecessary. Furthermore, extensive evidence and research indicate that teenagers should be treated differently from adults because their brain development progresses at a slower rate, influencing their decision-making capabilities.

Last but not least, Proposition 21’s main objective is to address only the surface issues of the problem, rather than tackling the root causes. It merely controls youth crimes without actually preventing them, making it an ineffective policy. Additionally, the billions of dollars allocated to this proposition could be better utilized for more effective programs, such as education.

Works Cited:

– League of Women Voters of California Education Fund. “Nonpartisan In-Depth Analysis of Proposition 21 Juvenile Crime. ” LWVC: Home of the League of Women Voters of California. League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, 24 Jan. 2000. Web. 16 Nov. 2009.

– Woods, Sherletta. “Policy Analysis of Proposition 21: California Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention of 1998.” ProQuest, May 2009. Web. 16 Nov. 2009.

– “Proposition 21: Juvenile Crime – California State Government.” Smart Voter by the League of Women Voters.Comprehensive Nonpartisan Election Information.,23 Apr.,Web19 Nov.,

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Proposition 21: Ineffective Policy. (2018, Feb 10). Retrieved from

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