How Criminal Justice Reform in California is Perpetuating Injustice and Endangering Public Safety

Written by Mary Scyocurka

On May 4, an 18-year-old Coronado High School student was robbed on Orange Avenue. He was selling a gold chain on Offer Up and brought a buddy with him to the exchange. The “buyer” planned an ambush with two of his friends. The getaway driver waited in the car around the corner and the “buyer” grabbed the chain and ran. The seller then tackled the thief. While they struggled on the ground, the third accomplice shot the Coronado student in the back, leaving him to die in the street.

The hollow point bullet went through the victim’s lung and diaphragm, decimating his liver. The bullet became lodged between the spine and aorta, fracturing the spine and two ribs, causing an aneurysm. The miraculous survivor endured two major surgeries and over a month in the hospital. Hollow point bullets are meant to kill, not wound. 

It was not difficult for the Coronado Police Department to identify these three perpetrators. They were all “known” suspects. The driver was 18 years old, while the other two were 17. The 17-year-old who grabbed the chain has been found guilty of previous crimes and was on probation at the time of this crime—and turned 18 in July. One would assume that this criminal would be tried as an adult, but that’s not the case. The shooter was also 17. One would also assume that he would be charged as an adult, but no. Why? Gavin Newsom. 

A “core value” of the governor is to eliminate prisons. In Newsom’s 2020-2021 Budget, he proposed permanently ending the intake of any more youth into the state Division of Juvenile Justice, starting January 1, 2021. The state-run lockups house the most serious juvenile offenders. Newsom says that the counties have plenty of room in their juvenile halls, and on March 24, he signed a temporary order requiring counties to keep those who would normally be sent to state facilities. The problem is that the county systems are not structurally prepared. Gov. Newsom eliminated plan A without a plan B in place.

Juvenile murderers and rapists with serious sex behavior or mental health needs should not be housed in the county juvenile halls and camps, as it would be unsafe for the other juveniles. So the option is to try these offenders as adults, but since the passage of Prop 57 in 2016, prosecutors must obtain a judge’s approval to charge youths as adults. Five criteria are considered: criminal sophistication exhibited, whether rehabilitation can occur before the juvenile court’s jurisdiction expires, previous delinquent history, previous attempts at rehabilitation, and the circumstances and gravity of the offense. 

It would seem straightforward, but apparently it’s not. Recently, a youth shot his father in the head, but he did not meet the criteria. Another youth stabbed someone over 50 times, but she did not meet the criteria. Are these arbitrary decisions or liberal justices exhibiting the growing trend of a lack of justice for the victims? These two cases resulted in the juveniles serving their time under house arrest, because Gavin Newsom wants to shut down the state facilities. 

If the shooter in the Coronado case is tried as an adult, he faces 20 years in prison. If he is charged as a juvenile, he will only look at five years, because the juvenile system can only keep him until he is 23 years old. However, the only place to keep him in San Diego County would be the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, which has a maximum 480 day program, with most juveniles serving one year. It’s hard to imagine this shooter being rehabilitated in such a short time frame. 

Governor Newsom is motivated to close California detention facilities because they have been bad at rehabilitation and are some of the most expensive in the country. The state is doing away with private prisons, which could be cheaper, according to State Senator John Moorlach, the only Republican on the Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary Senate Subcommittee.

Newsom is also closing eight fire camps, at which detainees learn skills that they can use to obtain a job once they are released. These closures will save an estimated $7.4 million over the next year. But to make up for the prisoner fire crews, the governor is looking to hire 600 professional firefighters at a cost of $200 million. The budget is utterly nonsensical. 

The decisions to close both adult and juvenile detention centers jeopardizes the public safety. Not charging violent juvenile offenders as adults and merely giving them a slap on the wrist is unjust. Rioters and looters are going unpunished, as Democrats are calling to defund the police. We are spiraling out of control in this state, but there will be backlash. Whoever runs on a law and order platform in November will likely win.