Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, a ballot initiative that will make sweeping reforms to the criminal justice system and change to how youth are charged in the system.
It is a "smart on safety" strategy that will improve public safety and create cost savings for the state. The proposed initiative is a historic opportunity to put our state on a path toward ending the crisis of mass incarceration and improving outcomes for youth in California.
This past Monday marked the 16th anniversary of the passage of California's Proposition 21, a failed "tough-on-crime" policy that led to skyrocketing rates of youth incarceration and fueled the false perception that California's children, mostly youth of color, were "super predators" who needed to be locked away.
Proposition 21, which passed in March 2000, took decision-making about whether a youth should be tried as an adult out of the hands of judges and put it in the hands of the district attorneys.
It also created "gang enhancements" that particularly targeted youth of color for harsher punishments. In the days following Proposition 21's passage, thousands across the state, mostly youths and students, took to the streets in protest.
In Oakland, dozens were arrested in an act of civil disobedience inside the police station. In San Francisco, more than 200 were arrested during a sit-in at the Union Square Hilton, protesting Hilton's financial backing of the measure.
Sixteen years later, it is clear the protesters' concerns were well-founded. The negative consequences of treating children so harshly and treating them as adults are well-documented.
Overwhelming research has demonstrated that youth in the adult system return to prison at higher rates than those in the juvenile system and that they also experience lifelong consequences related to having felonies on their record, such as barriers to finding employment, housing and other basic necessities.
In addition to other changes in the state's criminal justice system, the governor-supported ballot initiative puts the decision-making about which youth (as young as age 14) should be sent to the adult system back in the hands of judges, instead of prosecutors. It begins to reverse the damage that was done when Proposition 21 was passed.
Children have no place in the adult criminal justice system. When you try kids as adults, they are denied education and rehabilitative services while at the same time being exposed to extreme sentences and harsher conditions.
We have different systems for youth and adults in most other areas of our society. We teach our kids in different schools than we do adults, and we send our children to pediatricians instead of regular doctors.
It is our responsibility to create systems that are responsive to the needs of our kids. It is our responsibility to do right by California's children. Treating kids as adults in the courts and in the criminal justice system is just plain wrong.
It was a leading driver to mass incarceration and has nearly bankrupted our state. The future of California and the well-being of our children are at stake.
The time for change is now!
Nicole Lee is an Oakland resident and the executive director of Urban Peace Movement (www.urbanpeacemovement.org). George Galvis is the executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (www.curyj.org).