In an expected reversal of her predecessor’s policy, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced that her office will consider charging 16- and 17-year-olds alleged to have commited “heinous crimes that shock the conscience of the community” as adults.
Jenkins’ office on Tuesday announced the creation of what they called a new Juvenile Review Team, which will review cases against juveniles that involve murder, attempted murder, rape, kidnapping and torture, as well as other very serious charges.
“We must retain prosecutorial discretion to ensure that we protect the public and deliver justice in our most serious and egregious cases that is fair and proportional,” Jenkins said in a statement. “Our new Juvenile Review Team process will provide a holistic review of cases that will make the system fairer for all parties involved.”
The final decision on whether to charge juveniles as adults will be made by Jenkins on a case-by-case basis.
Despite recent highly publicized crimes allegedly committed by juveniles, such as the alleged beating of a grandmother by a group of youth, such crimes are on the decline in recent years and the city’s criminal justice system has been on a trajectory to deconstruct parts of the youth carceral system.
Still, the move by Jenkins reflected a position similar to at least two of her opponents in the coming election.
Former San Francisco Police Commissioner and District Attorney candidate John Hamasaki said that if elected, he would enact a similar policy.
“There are going to be exceptional circumstances,” Hamasaki said, noting that any such cases would require detailed review. Hamaskai said he would only charge juveniles as adults in murder cases.
“We know the science here, which shows that children's brains are developing to the age of 25,” Hamasaki said. “Decision making is impacted by that.”
Another candidate for District Attorney, Joe Alioto Veronese, said that he would not take charging juveniles as adults off the table.
While any blanket policy would be irresponsible, said Alioto Veronese, he would consider all factors in such charging decisions before making a final call.
“We need to address every juvenile case individually,” Alioto Veronese said.
Not everyone agreed on the topic—including, as would be expected, members of the Public Defender's Office.
Deputy Public Defender Niki Solis was unequivocal on her position against the practice.
“Jenkins, I don’t think she's ever done juvy work,” Solis said. “I think she’s pandering to a fringe group that's living in the Reagan era. She does not have a reform mentality and this shows it.”
Solis said this policy is outdated and doesn't work. Charging children who have been traumatized, victimized and trafficked as adults does not take into account the root causes of why crime occurs, she said.
Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at [email protected]