A 4-year-old California law that makes it easier for prosecutors to try juveniles as adults has been used sparingly by district attorneys, keeping steady the number of youth offenders tried in the adult justice system, reports the Los Angeles Times. District attorneys in several counties have continued to allow judges to decide in most cases whether juveniles should be prosecuted in adult court. Proposition 21, approved in March 2000 by 62 percent of California voters, gave district attorneys rather than judges the power to determine whether juveniles accused of certain crimes should face adult penalties. In juvenile court, the harshest penalty that can be imposed is custody until age 25.
“Time and time again, we received dire predictions that Proposition 21 would result in the collapse of the juvenile system as we know it,” said Creg Datig of the California District Attorneys Association. Passage of the proposition came when California’s juvenile crime rate, along with the number of youths sent to adult prisons, had already begun to decline. Last year, 58,892 juveniles were arrested for felony crimes, down from 76,104 in 1998. The overall number of 16- and 17-year-olds sent to adult prison dropped 18% over the same period, from 203 in 1998 to 166 last year. Prosecutors discovered that Proposition 21 “didn’t add that much to the existing law,” said Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. “Prosecutors are sort of generally reluctant to use it.”