California voters next week could fundamentally alter the frequency and design of “transfer hearings” where juveniles can be sent to be tried in the adult justice system, says the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Proposition 57 on Tuesday’s ballot has two key juvenile justice provisions. It would take the power prosecutors currently have to try certain juveniles directly in the adult system and return that decision to judges. It also would change the criteria judges use to determine which juveniles should be tried in the adult system.
Proposition 57 would undo processes instituted in 2000 under Proposition 21, whwich was passed in an era of “tough on crime” policy fervor. The initiative created automatic referrals to the adult system for juveniles charged with certain serious crimes and allowed prosecutors the discretion to decide whether to directly file other charges into the adult system. Rourke Stacy, a co-drafter of Proposition 57 and an attorney in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, argues that Proposition 21’s direct filing process gave too much power to prosecutors. Prosecutors have to make judgments on whether to charge juveniles as adults within 48 hours based on the police report. The Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice Fairness and Equity says that since 2003 more than 10,000 youth have been tried as adults in California, and 70 percent of those cases were directly filed.