Policy analysis of california s proposition 21 gang prevention and juvenile crime act of 1998
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Policy Analysis of California’s Proposition 21: Gang Prevention and Juvenile Crime Act of 1998. Sarah Olivas California State University, Long Beach May 2012.

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Policy Analysis of California’s Proposition 21: Gang Prevention and Juvenile Crime Act of 1998

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Policy analysis of california s proposition 21 gang prevention and juvenile crime act of 1998

Policy Analysis of California’s Proposition 21: Gang Prevention and Juvenile Crime Act of 1998

Sarah Olivas

California State University, Long Beach

May 2012


  • On March 7th, 2000, voters in California passed Proposition 21, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998 (Campaign for Youth Justice, 2007; Kupchik, 2006).

  • Under Proposition 21, juveniles as young as 14 years of age are automatically transferred to adult court if “special crimes” were committed, the list of crimes and offenses of which juveniles qualify to be transferred and tried in adult court was also increased to account for more crimes, the Three-Strikes Law and gang enhancements were expanded to include juveniles, and the confidentiality rights of juvenile offenders were weakened (California Secretary of State, 2000; Tepperman, 2008).

  • A fundamental view held by the juvenile justice system in the transferring of juveniles to adult court is that juvenile offenders have little chance of rehabilitation and are “untreatable” in the juvenile justice system (D’Angelo, 2007).

  • Even with literature supporting the notion that transfer laws are ineffective in preventing future crime and potentially counterproductive in reducing crime and increasing public safety, states continue to transfer juvenile offenders to adult courts (Fagan, 1996; Fagan, Kupchik, & Liberman, 2003; Redding, 2008; Winner et al., 1997).

  • The problem with the transferring of juvenile offenders is that it can affect their social relationships, employment, ability to adjust, and recidivism, affecting social and developmental domains (Schubert et al., 2010).

  • If the transferring of juvenile offenders to adult court is a permanent part of the criminal justice system, the focus of research needs to focus on how to refine the scope and implementation of this policy to reduce harm in order to do more good (Schubert et al., 2010).


Social work resonance of the policy

  • As social workers, we are called to assist those facing injustice and advocate for social change against oppressed populations. The issue of transferring juveniles to adult court raises many issues and concerns involving juvenile offenders, and specifically ethnic minorities.

  • In order to provide services and advocate for juvenile offenders, social workers must be able to move away from a “one dimensional view of offenders” and view treatment as an avenue to prevent future criminal behaviors (Roberts & Springer, 2007; Wilson, 2010).

  • The transfer of juvenile delinquents from the juvenile justice system to adult court presents a ethical challenge and dilemma for social workers in balancing the need for public safety and the need to address the bio-psychosocial needs of juvenile offenders who are transferred to adult court (Robert & Springer, 2007).

Social Work Resonance of the Policy


  • In the late 18th century, the juvenile justice courts were initially built upon the belief that not only could juvenile delinquents be changed, but that they also deserved a second chance (Tanenhaus, 2004).

  • The 1980’s and early 1990’s witnessed a rise in juvenile violent crimes. From 1984 to 1994, the rate of juveniles committing homicide tripled (Bakken, 2007).

  • With the increase in the youth population and juvenile homicide, many academics, law enforcement, and politicians began to fear and predict a youth population that would lack morals and values and be non-empathetic (Tanenhaus & Drizin, 2002).

  • Juvenile delinquents were no longer supported by the public in need of preferential treatment and of “a second chance”. Instead, juveniles were now viewed as “super predators” (DiIulio, 1995; McNulty, 1995; Mears et al., 2007).



  • Gil’s (1976) policy analysis framework is composed of three objectives. The first objective discusses the issues that surround the policy being analyzed. The second objective discerns the effects resulting, or expected to result from the policy. And Gil’s third objective is to develop alternative policies in place of the policy being reviewed.

    SECTION A: Issues dealt with by the policy.

    SECTION B: Objectives, values, premises, theoretical positions, target segments, and substantiative effects of the policy.

    SECTION C: Implications of the policy for the operating and outcome variables of social policy.

    SECTION D: Interaction of the policy with forces affecting social evolution.

    SECTION E: Development of alternative social policies; Comparison and evaluation


Research sources

  • California State University, Long Beach library sources.

  • Special governments sections

  • Public agency documents

  • Private-non-profit advocacy group documents

  • Government agency documents

    Were included and used as data sources

Research Sources

Policy analysis

  • The overt objectives of Proposition 21 were to deter juvenile crime through cracking down on violent juvenile offenders. Keeping society safe from chronic and violent juvenile offenders was a priority of the policy.

  • The covert objective of Proposition 21 is refocusing the juvenile justice system and treatment of juvenile offenders to adhere to a punitive model versus rehabilitation.

  • Another covert objective of the policy is the targeting of ethnic minority juveniles. This policy overwhelmingly impacts disadvantage youth, with data indicating in 2008 that African American juvenile offenders made up 62% of cases transferred in adult court, and Latinos 43% more likely, compared to Caucasian juveniles, to be transferred to adult court, and 40% more likely to be incarcerated in adult prisons (Campaign for Youth Justice, 2009; Campaign for Youth Justice, 2008).

  • The theoretical position of Proposition 21 is that greater punishment and consequences to juvenile crime, such as being tried in adult court and incarcerated in adult facilities, would deter and reduce juvenile crime and reduce recidivism by juvenile offenders (Redding, 2006; Redding, 2010).

  • The values held throughout Proposition 21 are based on the belief that children who do adult crimes should do adult time. This policy resonates with the saying “if you do the crime, you do the time”, valuing and mandating adult sanctions for juvenile offenders.

Policy Analysis

Policy analysis of california s proposition 21 gang prevention and juvenile crime act of 1998

  • The short-term effect of the policy is placing juvenile offenders in adult prisons resulting in a decrease in juvenile crime, as well as the public having a sense of security knowing that juvenile offenders are being punished for their crimes.

  • The long-term effect of this policy on juvenile offenders is the stigmatization and negative repercussions juveniles face once released from adult facilities as a convicted felon (Redding, 2006). Another long- term effect of this policy invested money into trials and prisons, resulting in a lack of money to invest into the development of educational prevention and intervention programs for juvenile delinquents and offenders (Tepperman, 2008).

  • Proposition 21 is also believed to be unconstitutional through the violation of juveniles’ due process rights (Taylor, 2002). Through prosecutorial waivers, juveniles are not given a fitness hearing to discern if they are competent to be tried in adult court or not. This then is believed to violate a juvenile’s due process rights. In 2002, the California Supreme Court dismissed any unconstitutional attacks on Proposition 21, upholding the constitutionality of the law (Taylor, 2002).

  • At the time of this writing, there was no alternative policy for Proposition 21 in development. It has been difficult to implement other strategies and alternatives to Proposition 21 “because the language of the initiative requires that changes to the law occur via a new initiative or by obtaining a supermajority in the legislature; both are very difficult to accomplish” (Campaign for Youth Justice, 2007, p. 15).

  • With the amount of research, literature, and awareness present on the potential consequences of transferring juveniles to adult court, public opinion on the treatment of juveniles offenders has changed (Arya, 2011; National juvenile justice network, 2010).

Summary of the strengths and challenges of the policy

  • A finding and social policy challenge of Proposition 21 is the unintended targeting of juvenile ethnic minorities. Proposition 21 appears to exacerbate the problem of overrepresentation of ethnic minorities within the justice system. A Californian Color of Justice study reported that after juveniles were transferred to adult court, African American juveniles were 18.4 times more likely, Latinos 7.3 times more likely, and Asians 4.5 times more likely than Caucasians to be sentenced in adult court for similar crimes (Kohlatkarast, 2000).

  • Another finding regarding Proposition 21 is the lack of focus on rehabilitation for juvenile delinquents the proposition encompasses. Juveniles who are transferred and sentenced in adult court lack the services and resources juvenile institutions are able to provide. Adult prisons provide juveniles with less counseling and fewer educational resources in comparison to juvenile detention facilities (Taylor, 2002).

  • Juveniles are placed not only in facilities with minimally accessible resources and services, but are also more at risk for sexual assault, abuse, suicide, and death (Campaign for Youth Justice, 2007). “Teenagers are five times as likely as adult prisoners to be sexually assaulted; they’re twice as likely to be beaten by a guard and 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon. And children in adult prisons are eight times more likely to commit suicide than those in juvenile facilities” (Taylor, 2002, p. 995).

  • The main premise for Proposition 21 was to lower juvenile crime; however, multiple studies have found higher recidivism rates for juveniles sentenced in adult court for violent crimes when compared to juveniles tried in juvenile court (Redding, 2006). Multiple studies and research on juvenile offenders in adult facilities have reported that housing juveniles in adult facilities with “career criminals” causes more harm to juveniles, with more juveniles likely to reoffend more quickly and with more serious offenses once released (Campaign for Youth Justice, 2007).

Summary of the Strengths and Challenges of the Policy

Policy analysis of california s proposition 21 gang prevention and juvenile crime act of 1998

  • Arya, N. (2011). State trends: Legislative changes from 2005 to 2010 removing youth from the Adult Criminal Justice System. Washington, DC: Campaign for Youth Justice.

  • Bakken, N. W. (2007). You do the crime, you do the time: A socio-legal history of thejuvenile court and transfer waivers. Retrieved from International Foundation of Protection Officers website:http://www.ifpo.org/articlebank/BakkenJuvenile_Justice.pdf

  • California Secretary of State. (2000). Juvenile crime. Initiative statue. Retrieved from http://primary2000.sos.ca.gov/VoterGuide/Propositions/21.htm

  • Campaign for Youth Justice. (2007). The consequences aren’t minor: The impact of trying youths as adults and strategies for reform. Retrieved from http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/documents/CFYJNR_ConsequencesMinor.pdf

  • Campaign for Youth Justice. (2008). Critical conditions: African american youth in the justice system. Retrieved fromhttp://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/documents/AfricanAmericanBrief.pdf. 

  • Campaign for Youth Justice. (2009). America’s invisible children: Latino youth and the failure of justice. Retrieved from http://www.campaignforyouthjustice.org/documents/CFYJPB_InvisibleChildren. pdf.10

  • D'Angelo, J.M. (2007). The complex nature of juvenile court judges’ transfer decisions: a study of judicial attitudes. Social Science Journal, 44, 147-159.

  • Gil, D. (1976). Unraveling social policy: Theory, analysis, and political action towards social equality. Schenkman Publishers

  • Kolhatkarast, S. (2000). Proposition 21: Further degrading a flawed system. Retrieved from http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~progress/articles/sk_prop21.html

  • Kupchik, A. (2006). Judging juveniles: prosecuting adolescents in adult and juvenile courts. New York, NY: New York University Press. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=7c0Mo14-e_8C&printsec=frontcover

  • Mears, D. P., Hay, C., Gertz, M., & Mancini, C. (2007). Public opinion and foundation of the juvenile court. Criminology, 45(1), 223-258.

  • National Juvenile Justice Network (2010). Polling on public attitudes about the treatment of young offenders. Washington DC: National Juvenile Justice Network

  • Redding, R. (2006). Adult punishment for juvenile offenders: Does it reduce crime? Villanova University School of Law, 47, 1-37.

  • Redding, R. (2010). Juvenile transfer laws: An effective deterrent to delinquency? Retrieved from Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/220595.pdf. 

  • Roberts, A. & Springer, D. (2007). Social work in juvenile and criminal justice settings (3rd Ed.).Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. 

  • Schubert, C.A., Mulyey, E.P., Loughran, T.A., Fagan, J., Chassin, L.A., Piquero, A.R…Cauffman, E. (2010). Predicting outcomes for youth transferred to adult court. Law of Human Behavior, 34, 460-475.

  • Tanenhaus, D. S. (2004). Juvenile justice in the making. New York: Oxford University Press. 

  • Tanenhaus, D. & Drizin, S.A. (2002). Owning to the extreme youth of the accused: the changing legal response to juvenile homicide. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 92(3-4), 641-706. 

  • Taylor, J. (2002). California’s proposition 21: A case of juvenile injustice. Southern California Law Review, 75. Retrieved from http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~usclrev/pdf/075405.pdf 

  • Tepperman, J. (2008). Proposition 21: Juvenile crime initiative. Retrieved from Action Alliance for Children: http://www.4children.org/issues/2000/january_february/proposition_21_juvenile_crime_initiative/ 

  • Wilson, M. (2010). Criminal justice social work in the United States: Adapting to new challenges. Washington, DC. NASW Center for Workforce Studies.

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