Proposition 21, also known as “the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998,” was passed in 2000 in the state of California with the objective of toughening the penalties on felonies committed by youths, specifically gang-related felonies. While the intention of this proposition is certainly a good one since it aimed to fight and reduce youth and gang-related crimes, the repercussions and harms that it brought to the youth population and the society as a whole, in my opinion, outweigh the pros and benefits; therefore, I would suggest that Proposition 21 is not an effective policy and I would stand against it.
Proposition 21, which is designed to increase a variety of penalties for crimes committed by youths and incorporate more youth offenders into the adult criminal justice system in order to allow harsher punishments that would impede youths from committing serious crimes, entails major changes to the California juvenile justice system; examples of these changes are: (1) increased punishment for gang-related felonies (e. g. ndeterminate life sentences for home-invasion robbery, carjacking, witness intimidation and drive-by shootings), (2) requirement of adult trials for juveniles 14 or older charged with murder or specified sex offenses, (3) elimination of informal probation for juveniles committing felonies (youth offenders can no longer be “informally probated” with juvenile courts and have their criminal records cancelled after good behaviors during probation) (4) requirement of registration for gang related offenses, (5) authorization of wiretapping for gang activities, (6) designation of additional crimes as violent and serious felonies, such as recruiting for gang activities, thereby making offenders subject to longer sentences, and, last but not least, (7) making death penalty a punishment option for gang-related murder” (Woods, pg. 1).
These changes, according to the texts of the proposition, are aimed to hinder more youths from committing serious crimes (by prosecuting those serious youth crimes with harsher sentences) hence help strangling youth crime rates and “protect Californians from criminals who don’t respect human life” (The League of Women Voters, 2000). While it is true that these new changes could help the authorities in detaining youth crimes more effectively and make youth offenders responsible for murder, rape, or any extreme violent acts, it is also true that they have huge detrimental effects on the youth population and the society as a whole; more importantly, the proposition only cures the surface” but not the roots of the problem (the causes of youth, gang-related crimes). According to the article Nonpartisan In Depth Analysis of Proposition 21: Juvenile Crime, the major reasons why supporters do indeed support the proposition are: (1) “youth should not be an excuse for murder, rape or any violent act and Proposition 21 ends the “slap on the wrist” of current law by imposing real consequences for gang members, rapists and murderers” and (2) “The Three Strikes law has contributed to a decline in adult crime, while juvenile crime continues to be serious and needs to be addressed” (League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, 2000).
These reasons are more than sufficient to call for a revamp in the justice system (which Proposition 21 was designed to do) if the previous justice system did not provide ways to make youth offenders to be accountable for their serious crimes as if they were adults and the youth crime problem is indeed going out of control; however, in reality, neither of these “ifs” are true; first of all, “California law already allows children and gang members as young as 14 to be tried and sentenced as adults” by discretion of juvenile courts (League of Women Voters of California Education Fund, 2000). Secondly, according to statistics provided by Policy Analysis of Proposition 21, juvenile crimes have been decreasing steadily “due to zero tolerance policies and longer confinement for repeat offenders. ” The notion of “the juvenile crime problem is getting more serious” among average Americans was created and fed by “fear due to news reports on violent youth and studies done by criminologists such as John Dilulio, who predicted that there would be a new breed of juvenile predators known as ‘superpredators’ ” (Woods, pg. 30).
In other words, Proposition 21 is a redundant policy that seeks to toughen the already tough “zero tolerance” laws in order to both lock up even more youth as adults and do so in longer terms; moreover, it is also a policy with many negative effects to the youth population and the society as a whole. One of the detrimental effects of such policy is that, by increasing the number of potential youth criminals for adult trials, these young people are often denied the rehabilitation services (provided to them by most juvenile detention facilities) that are crucial to their “recovery” in becoming a good and useful member of the society again after serving their terms; moreover, research indicates that sending youth criminals to adult penitentiaries reatly increases the rate of recidivism, (criminals committing similar crimes again after they are released from prisons) comparing to utilizing juvenile facilities instead, due to the lack of the aforementioned rehabilitation services (Woods, pg. 12). This is an example of how the proposition only solves the “surface” but not the roots of the problem – yes, locking up more youth offenders in adult penitentiaries can reduce occurrences of youth crime in the short-run but it will also increase the rate of recidivism, which will increase the number of crimes in the long-run; furthermore, doing so only control youth crimes but not prevent them.
Another negative effect of the proposition is the huge monetary investments, both the start-up and reoccurring costs, which both the state and local government have to put in to maintain the new laws; according to the proposition text itself, the proposition would result in the “state’s ongoing costs of more than $330 million annually due to the higher costs of the adult prison system and one-time costs of about $750 million for construction of additional incarceration facilities. Local governments would incur ongoing costs of tens of millions to more than $100 million per year, largely for housing juvenile offenders before their adult court disposition, and one-time costs from $200 million to $300 million. These large amount of budget could have be allocated into the more important and preventative programs, such as education and social worker agencies, that actually are aimed to address the roots of the problem we are facing. Last but not least, there is a valid reason why, for the past hundred years or so, America has had separate judicial courts for adults and juveniles; the most compelling argument is that adolescents are experiencing the stages of “moral and psychological development” and “self-identity development” that they often do not understand or consider the consequences of wrong-doing; furthermore, other factors, such as peer pressure and economical hardships, only make treating most juvenile crimes differently than adult crimes more logical.
One passage of Sherletta Wood’s essay provides sound support for this argument: …Youth are not capable of understanding the consequences of their actions, and are no deserving of adult punishment… adolescents are at a stage in which they are impulsive and take risks… [They often have] limited capacity to grasp fully the potential ramifications of risky behavior… Brain imaging has also revealed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that is associated with the ability to assess risk, is one of the last parts of the brain to mature… teenagers are expected to separate from their parents and develop peer relationships. If they do not develop a positive identity and sense of self worth, they are likely to develop a poor self image which can lead to risky behavior, psychological problems… At this time adolescent are more susceptible to peer pressure, which can also lead to dangerous behaviors (Woods, pg 11-12).
This is not to say all youth offenders should not be held accountable to the same degree as adult offenders should; on the contrary, I agree that adolescents who committed the obviously inappropriate and life-threatening crimes, such as premeditated murder, should definitely be held accountable and trialed as if they were adults, but the main point here is that the previous justice system already allows young criminals to be prosecuted as adults should it be necessary (and, obviously, not all crimes are necessary for this measure due to the differences between youth and adult criminals described above) and spending billions of dollars on Proposition 21 is both wasteful and redundant.
In conclusion, I stand against Proposition 21 because it has more negative impacts on the society than positive ones; this is mainly due to the fact that the current juvenile justice system is actually sufficient for controlling youth crimes (demonstrated by the fact that juvenile offenders are already eligible for adult trials and prosecutions should the juvenile courts determine so and that youth crimes have been decreasing steadily since the early 90s) that makes Proposition 21 redundant. Furthermore, strong evidence and research suggest that most adolescents should be treated differently than adults due to late developments of their brains that prevent them from making appropriate judgments as normal adults should.
Last but not least, Proposition 21 only aims to solve the “surface” but not the “roots” of the problem – it only controls but not prevents youth crimes – which makes it an ineffective policy, especially for one that costs billions of precious dollars that can be apply to 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. 2000. Web. 19 Nov. 2009. .