Officials in Santa Clara County California are coming together to potentially make some pretty significant changes in the juvenile justice system there, changes that could signal a recognition by the local system that juveniles are “not just short people”, as Juvenile Court Judge Patrick Tondreau has said, but a unique population with a unique set of needs best served by a cooperative effort focused on treatment and prevention rather than punishment.
At the recent State of the County address Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said he would like to see 2011 be “The Year of the Child”. He went on to add that his ultimate goal would be to put the local juvenile hall “out of business.”
Among the changes he’s suggesting is raising the age which children are sent to lock-up. Currently, policy recommends against jailing anyone under the age of 13. As if that wasn’t low enough, reports of kids as young as 10 being locked up in the juvenile hall have circulated. “Eventually”, he says, he would like to see that age raised to 16. While it’s unclear just how soon “eventually” is, we’re calling on him to get it done now.
Youthful offenders are far different from adults in many ways. They aren’t just smaller. Their propensity for rehabilitation is much greater as they haven’t yet developed impulse control and risk assessment. As they develop into adults, we can either guide them and show them how to make better decisions or we can treat them like the adults, lock them up, and let them figure it out for themselves.
Santa Clara County California is just one small cog in the juvenile justice system. But they’re signaling they might be ready for change. A small local change and resulting success there could be the motivation for the next county to make similar progressive changes. With this and the children of Santa Clara County in mind, tell officials there to raise the minimum age for entrance into the juvenile hall. Also call on them to separate their probation department, providing services tailored to the unique needs of the juvenile population.
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