Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A True Criminal Justice Reformer

There are certainly some juveniles who need to be incarcerated, for our safety and theirs.  But we can make our city safer by having the knowledge to see the difference between a dangerous juvenile and simply a troubled child who, with our support, can be directed to a productive path.  -- David Onek

David Onek is running for District Attorney of San Francisco.  I  have previously written about why I so strongly believe in his candidacy:  Onek's the One.  David's goal as District Attorney would not be simply to put more people behind bars but to find creative ways to to reduce the inflated prisoner population.  In this regard, he has just released a major policy initiative -- The Safest Generation: A Common Sense Plan to Make Our Entire City Safer by Reforming Our Juvenile Justice System.  This plan is emblematic of  his thoughtful, progressive approach to criminal justice and public safety issues.

Since, as David writes, "the majority of adult criminals started out in the juvenile justice system," it is critical to develop programs that will keep youth out of the criminal justice system.  He understands that while there are a small number of juveniles who have committed crimes serious enough to warrant incarceration, punitive policies for most young offenders is inappropriate and leads to them becoming more persistent offenders.

Juvenile offenders can be held accountable for their acts without sweeping them into the criminal justice system.  David is a strong believer in the restorative justice model, which "does a better job of holding  youth accountable than the traditional justice system."  Instead of seeking to punish those who break the law -- which encourages the offender to deny responsibility -- a restorative justice program holds him or her directly accountable to the people they harmed:  "the 'punishment' is determined by the victim,the offender, and the community."

One of the many impressive aspects of David's approach to criminal justice is his emphasis on bringing the various stakeholders together and forging strong partnerships with the community.  To reform the juvenile justice system he will work with educators, community leaders, law enforcement, and city agencies to: (1) address the over-representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system; (2) address the unique needs of girls in the system; (3) focus on health at all levels; (4) continue reform of foster care; (5) focus on schools; and (6) expand focus on safe recreation, after-school and employment opportunities.

It is significant that David's first detailed policy initiative concerns juvenile justice and is designed to "cut crime at the source."  It reflects his vision for criminal justice reform, which requires "fundamentally chang[ing] the way we prosecute, and prevent, crime."  Rather than relying on knee-jerk, overly punitive responses to crime and violence, David will engage the community and implement policies in ways that will make us safer. 

To learn more about David's ideas for criminal and juvenile justice and to join and/or contribute to his campaign, click here


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