April 21, 2004 the San Francisco Public Defender's Office organized a summit to address the current state of affairs in California linked to youth incarceration and with a special emphasis on the youth of the City and County of San Francisco.
The summit was held at the Koret Auditorium in the San Francisco Main Library from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
We all have the highest respect for Public Defender Jeff Adachi who has taken the duties of his office to the highest level of Public Service. Jeff Adachi and good Public Defenders will defend those who have broken the law. In this case juveniles who have been the victims of the Justice System.
The film "Juvies" set the tone for this workshop. The unanimous conclusion from the applause and from the direct questions clearly indicated that our youth are jailed without much hope for change or reformation. Youth who are incarcerated learn more about criminal behavior then before they land there.
We heard one young woman who did not do drugs became a heroin user when in the juvenile system. Often women because of circumstances have women lovers. The same with young men who learn homosexual behavior while being incarcerated in the juvenile system.
We all know about the horror stories of counselors beating up young wards. We all know about the high rate of suicides in the California Youth Authority system. We all know the lack of caring for those youth that need help most. Our Justice system has failed the youth by treating them as adults.
It is time the Justice System takes a deep breath and change. The current system is a chronic failure.
We have over 200,000 youth incarcerated in our failed Justice System all over California. I have been to court and I am shocked how our Judges have to adjudicate complicated issues. Often time some one as young as 16 and 17 years is given a life sentence. And when these youth are sentenced our Justice System does not have the ability to bring about a change and lead our youth away from crime and into society as young citizens who can contribute to Society.
Our Justice System have use our youth as statistics - everything bears number those who go into a Youth Incarcerated Facility are given one number, those who go to a Group Home another number, those who go to a Mental Facility another number. The system is totally based on the Adult System of Incarceration that has Failed Society.
The San Francisco Public Defender's office has decided to change the system. It has a Mission not to send any youth to those places where they are abused like the California Youth Authority. It has created a system where youth can be given opportunity to good Education. Opportunities for sound placement with follow up. Qualified Social Workers to attend to those problems which were never attended to professionally. Experts who genuinely care about our youth who have mental problems - like those who are bi-polar. There are other facets that most other Public Defenders in other States have not bothered to pay keen attention to - we are lucky that San Francisco is taking the lead.
We have 1483 youth in the juvenile system in San Francisco and it is the hope of Jeff Adachi and his Department to attend to all of these youth as best they can. The undaunted task demands a lot of sacrifice and love and with Jeff Adachi at the helm of affairs - we will see some change.
This summit and workshops is moving in the right direction. As one who works with youth - I see some hope for those who are incarcerated in the San Francisco and the near by counties. My hope is that we use every humane method not to incarcerate our youth by giving them opportunities to stay away from trouble and crime.
Kudos to those who put this conference together and keep up the good work.