The purpose of the juvenile court system is to decide if a crime has been committed by a person under the age of 18, and if so, to make orders imposing consequences on the juvenile offender for the misconduct and to aid in his or her rehabilitation, always keeping in mind the rights of victims and the community’s need for safety.
As a community, we must deal with the reality that juvenile gangs do exist in Mendocino County. Gang-related crimes are primarily physical assaults (to intimidate and retaliate against rival gang members) both at school and on the streets. Since fiscal year 2007, several dozen juvenile wards have had special terms of probation ordered by the juvenile court designed to prevent them from associating with other gang affiliates. The social forces encouraging gang association are widespread throughout California, not only in the large cities, but in our own county’s rural communities.
Violent crimes against the person, such as sexual assault, crimes where a weapon is used, or where a person is seriously injured, are facts of life in juvenile court. California’s plans for juvenile justice include a realignment similar to that seen in felony adult courts. No longer will counties be able to send their most serious juvenile offenders to a state-level institution; all minors adjudged wards of the court will need to be handled in the local community. This means a renewed emphasis on probation supervision and local rehabilitation programs, a new state-wide strategy that causes the District Attorney to have increased concern for public safety. It also means the District Attorney will still decide in appropriate cases whether a minor should be tried as an adult.
Because the primary goal in juvenile court is rehabilitation of the juvenile offender, our local criminal justice resources include Juvenile Hall, special schools for delinquent minors, Juvenile Probation’s IMPACT program, and counseling through local agencies. Minors are also ordered to perform community service, go to drug and alcohol treatment, and participate in anger management classes. At times the court resorts to out-of-home placement for minors who need more structure than what their parents and our local resources can provide.
The District Attorney regards crimes committed by juveniles with the utmost concern. Juvenile lawbreaking frequently involves inflicting damage on people and property. Victims of crimes repeatedly come to court with compelling expressions of the pain and loss that these crimes inflict. The District Attorney's Office is committed to advocating for appropriate criminal sanctions against minors on behalf of victims and ensuring that restitution is ordered and paid.
A constant consideration of the District Attorney and his prosecutors involves the negative effects of all juvenile crimes on parents, relatives, schools, and neighborhoods. Even lesser juvenile offenses, such as skipping school, staying out late in violation of curfew and consuming alcohol or using drugs, may negatively impact our community. The overall goal of the District Attorney is to influence a reduction in juvenile crime and, in turn, encourage normal and positive activities that help all of our children mature into functioning, well-adjusted, and productive adults.