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.
Photo Credit: Harshlight
First, I ask that the minimum age for entrance into juvenile hall be raised to sixteen. Children younger than this should not be locked up when it’s repeatedly been shown that childhood incarceration is detrimental to their development and well being. By raising this age, you would not only potentially save the County the money of housing youthful offenders, you would provide children with resources in the community that could help them make better future decisions and become upstanding citizens.
Second, I ask that you follow the recommendations outlined by the Commission on Juvenile Justice, in specific, separating juvenile and adult probationary services. Executed correctly, this could be done at little to no financial cost and also at a huge benefit both to the children the department serves but also at a huge benefit to the personnel of the probation department. Properly trained officers and juvenile-specific resources would give these children the tools they need for success.
The proposed changes would signal to the rest of the country that Santa Clara County is dedicated to serving the needs of their children and courageous enough to make the changes necessary.
Thank you for your immediate attention to this issue.