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Juvenile court sentencing process up for reform in California

A new proposal by a California lawmaker could help child offenders receive the care they need outside of state juvenile detention facilities. The measure would require juvenile court judges to seriously consider children's personal histories of neglect and abuse, which could have contributed to some of their violent tendencies. The legislation would ultimately aim to help children who have committed crimes, instead of simply locking them away in the depths of the juvenile law system.

State lawmakers cite tragic cases such as the 10-year-old child who was placed in a juvenile criminal detention facility after shooting his father. That boy suffered from learning disabilities and a negative home environment that led to violent outbursts and even expulsions from schools. Caseworkers explained that the boy's mother was so irresponsible that she had lost custody to an underemployed father who was rising within the California neo-Nazi movement.

The child admitted that he had shot his father in the head because he was fed up with the way that he treated the boy's stepmother. Further, it appears that the father was verbally and physically abusive toward the boy. Even though the child's public defender had found a place for the child in an out-of-state facility that could have addressed his psychological needs, a judge still ordered the boy to serve a 10-year term in the juvenile law system. Those detention facilities do not provide the same level of treatment that could be offered in private facilities.

New legislation would take away certain sentencing powers from judges, who would be required to prioritize information from the child's past. Advocates say that the changes could provide hope for young offenders who have already suffered much in life. Attorneys in California may be able to help juvenile offenders learn more about their ever-changing constitutional rights, which continue to improve thanks to the efforts of outspoken advocates.

Source: The California Report, "New Legislation Reconsiders Juvenile Sentencing and Placement" Steven Cuevas, Mar. 04, 2014

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