Does Political Party Influence the Rate of Youth Transferred to Adult Court in California?

Come November, California is almost certain to deliver a hefty number of electoral votes to Hillary Clinton in this year’s presidential election.

As a whole, California is one of the nation’s bluest states, but that’s not necessarily the case for elected officials across its 58 counties, including district attorneys.

As recently as 2014, 46 percent of district attorneys in the state identified as Republican. (Nearly a third of all district attorneys were Democratic, while the remaining 21 percent belonged to parties other than the Democratic or Republican parties and were not included in the analysis.)

But according to a recent research report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), that political affiliation might have big implications for youth in the state’s juvenile justice system.

In “Justice by Geography: Do Politics Influence the Prosecution of Youth as Adults?,” Mike Males, senior research fellow at CJCJ, looked at data to determine if the political affiliation of a county’s district attorney had any relation to the odds that a youth would be transferred to an adult court for a violent crime instead of being charged in a juvenile court.

He found that in counties with Republican district attorneys in 2014, youth were transferred to adult court after being arrested for a violent felony offense at a rate of 6.4 percent. For Democratic district attorneys, the rate of youth cases tried in adult court was 2.6 percent.

Overall, a youth arrested for a violent felony is 2.4 times more likely to have his case heard in adult court than a youth arrested for a similar crime in a county where a Democrat is in the district attorney’s office.

Since Proposition 21 passed in 2000, the decision about whether to charge juveniles as young as 14 in the adult court in California for certain serious offenses now rests with prosecutors. A measure on the November ballot would return that responsibility to judges.

Males also noted that there are substantial racial and gender disparities in the rate of youth sent to adult court no matter what the political affiliation of the district attorney.

The report was released in conjunction with another recent CJCJ report that found widening racial disparities among the youth who are charged in the adult court since the implementation of the 2000 proposition as well as significant differences in the rate of juveniles tried in adult court among the state’s counties.

You can read the “Justice by Geography” brief here.

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Jeremy Loudenback
About Jeremy Loudenback 313 Articles
Jeremy is the child trauma editor for The Chronicle of Social Change.