The Safest Generation: Creating a Safer City by Reforming Our Juvenile Justice System

(David is a candidate for SF DA – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

My campaign for District Attorney is focused on making San Francisco the safest and fairest big city in the country. And San Francisco’s children – whether they are at home, at school or in their neighborhoods – can and should be safer than any generation that came before them. Achieving this goal will not only protect our children – it is the most effective way to make our entire city safer. And it will be a hallmark of my District Attorney’s office.

We are bankrupting ourselves by supporting a broken criminal justice system. Taxpayers and San Franciscans who depend on local services are paying the price for the inefficient and frequently ineffective policies of the past. Incarcerating adult prisoners costs more than $47,000 per prisoner per year and the dramatic increase in prison costs is nearly bankrupting our state.

In order to improve safety – as well as bring costs under control – we must fundamentally change the way we prosecute, and prevent, crime in this city. And the very first priority must be fundamental reform of our juvenile justice system.

The majority of adult criminals started out in the juvenile justice system. It is time to refocus our efforts to cut crime at the source instead of merely treating the symptoms – by keeping youth who enter the juvenile justice system from becoming adult criminals.

Moving from Punishment to Restoration

Over the past two decades, legislatures throughout the country, including California’s, have responded to the issue of juvenile crime by adopting laws instituting harsher treatment of juvenile offenders. Yet, there is a substantial body of evidence indicating that juveniles, in fact, lack adult capacities with respect to judgment and impulse control. At the same time, juveniles are more amenable to rehabilitative interventions than adults.

Under my leadership, the District Attorney’s Office’s juvenile justice efforts will be guided by a restorative justice model. Restorative justice can make San Francisco safer, and keep San Francisco’s children from becoming adult offenders. The focus of restorative justice is on repairing the harm done by an offender’s actions. It puts the victim’s needs and offender accountability to those needs at the center of a community-involved process to repair the harm. High-quality restorative justice programs have been shown to reduce recidivism, increase victim satisfaction, engage the community, and reduce costs.

Changing the Juvenile Justice Status Quo

While my District Attorney’s Office will be predicated on a restorative justice model, it cannot be the only solution. We have to change the focus and mindset of how we operate our juvenile justice system.

To do that, I will elevate the juvenile unit to a full Division within the District Attorney’s Office, headed by a Juvenile Division Chief deeply knowledgeable about all aspects of approaches to juvenile crime and offenders and committed to working closely with affected communities.

It is critical that this new Juvenile Division is staffed by Assistant District Attorneys with specialized knowledge and qualifications regarding juvenile justice. Thus, Assistant DAs recruited to work in the Juvenile Division will receive increased training in specific issues effecting juvenile crime.

Furthermore, the data show that transferring youth from the juvenile justice system into adult court does not make us safer. Youth who remain in the juvenile justice system have lower recidivism rates because there are much better rehabilitation opportunities in the juvenile system. As District Attorney, I will never “direct file” a youth into adult court. Instead, in the very rare instances where I feel a juvenile should be tried as an adult, I will bring the case to a hearing before a judge, who will hear evidence from all sides and decide what is appropriate.

Taking the Expert Approach

There are many other issues that we must focus on in overhauling our juvenile justice system – all in partnership with the community – including: the overrepresentation of youth of color; the unique needs of girls; health; foster care reform; schools; and recreation, after-school and employment opportunities. For a more in depth look at my step-by-step juvenile justice policy, I encourage you to click here.

The Safest Generation of San Francisco youth will be the first, and most important step, in making this the safest and fairest city in America. With the community’s help and guidance, this will be a top priority of my administration.

David Onek is the founding Executive Director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, former Commissioner on the San Francisco Police Commission and candidate for San Francisco District Attorney. His plan, The Safest Generation, can be viewed by clicking here.

2 thoughts on “The Safest Generation: Creating a Safer City by Reforming Our Juvenile Justice System”

  1. There are two schools of thought about criminal justice today.  One is represented by Nancy Grace and Marc Klass and other people who are enraged by crime.  To them, every perpetrator is a dirt bag, every crime is the worst crime possible, every case should be a death penalty case.

    The other school of thought is the academic community.  These are the guys who actually research crime and punishment and have evidence about what works and what doesn’t work.  They represent the cerebral while the others represent the visceral.

    Our policy makers are FAR more influence by the former group than the later group.  This mean lots  of expensive incarceration as well as more police, more jails, more prosecutors more judges more probation and more parole.  All of these people could be used for much more productive purposes and the people who are caught up in the system could obviously be doing far more productive things.

    Mr. Onek sounds like someone who might be more influence by the academic groups than the followers of Nancy Grace.  And San Francisco might be the one city in the US that would accept his thinking.  Good luck.

  2. So, Basically what you’re saying is that you’re soft on crime

    And you don’t don’t want those little darlings to suffer for their ‘youthful mistakes’

    Poor dears, they’ve suffered ENOUGH !

    You’ll  be a worthy successor to Kamala Harris

    (and in the spirit of Terrence ‘Kayo’ Hallinan)

    SF voters are dumb enough to fall for this nonsense

    Then they wonder, what’s causing all the crime ?


Comments are closed.