Youth Justice Experts Target Reforms to Increase Equity, Lower RecidivismThursday, May 31, 2018
Berkeley Law – By Andrew Cohen
On May 24, Krasner moderated a livestreamed panel of youth justice experts at Berkeley Law’s East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC). Co-hosted by the Justice Collaborative Engagement Project, the event focused on reforming juvenile justice in Alameda County and across California—and on prosecutors’ role in achieving that reform.During his election campaign last year, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner vowed to dismantle institutional inequities in sentencing, parole, bail, and incarceration. After winning in a landslide, he promptly fired 31 prosecutors who he thought did not value that agenda.
Regarding the juvenile justice system’s stark racial imbalances, Krasner said, “Discrimination is one of our great challenges. Let’s not make the mistake I’ve heard for 30 years as an attorney, that this one ‘from a good family’ gets a pass.”
Krasner expressed optimism for meaningful reform on two fronts: growing public dismay with mass incarceration, and lawyers’ shifting perceptions of juvenile justice work. “It’s no longer a place where young attorneys cut their teeth to go do what matters,” he said. “It’s now a space where some career prosecutors stay to the end and do incredibly important work.”
Panelists criticized the costs of juvenile detention and its common structure, with youth routinely housed 200 to 300 miles away from their families. Krasner lauded New York’s Closer to Home initiative, where juveniles stay in facilities in or near their home community, as less expensive and more successful.
“Connections between youth and their families and communities are extremely important to the possibility of rehabilitation,” he said. “Once you break those connections and don’t have education, you end up with a high level of recidivism.”
Prosecutorial discretion, police accountability
Panelists urged greater discretion from prosecutors in order to lower youth incarceration rates and foster rehabilitation.
Kate Weisburd, who directs EBCLC’s Youth Defender Clinic, noted that prosecutors play a “huge role” in the school-to-prison pipeline given their frequent pursuit of cases that originate in schools. She said about half of youth detained in Alameda County were suspended or expelled from school, and that the majority are there for probation violations rather than actual offenses.