Fall 1990 Home   Newsletters

Winter 1991

Spring 1991

President's Message (Sandra Duckworth)
Board Highlights
Hospitality Needed
Call to Convention
Non-Partisan Facts Explored
League Leaders Listed
Juvenile Justice Position Reviewed (Catherine Tignac)
Reapportionment: The Drama Begins (Anna Lee)
League Unveils Juvenile Justice Position
Action Ahead on Public Education (Marion Saunders)
Legislative Access Reported (Debbie Kimball)
Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) (Debbie Kimball)
League Appreciates these Companies

Juvenile Justice Position Reviewed

"LEAGUE UNVEILS J J POSITION" titled the enclosed Leo Hana article almost ten years ago following a two-year study of the juvenile justice system commenced in 1979, the Year of the Child. This is the position which has guided action over the years including presentation of testimony before the legislature on relevant bills.

Reliable sources indicate that there will be more than one bill presented this year with the goal of lowering the age at which a juvenile can be waived to adult court for trial-According to a reliable source, twelve youths have been waived to adult court this part year. By law they must have been sixteen years of age or older and guidelines adhered to.

Enter 15-year-old John Smith (not his real name). From newspaper accounts we learn that on September 23rd, Smith was involved in shootings of three Navy men. One of the Navy men died at the scene. At the time of the publication, one was in critical condition and the third was in serious condition in a local hospital. Charged with second-degree murder, first-degree attempted murder; two counts of second-degree attempted murder and firearms violation, John's case will be heard in the secrecy of Family Court.

Should there be a finding (conviction for an adult), the maximum sentence Smith, who turned 16 November 2nd, can receive [ missing ]. He is being held at Hawaii Youth Correctional until he is 19 and on parole status until he is 20.

There were expressions of outrage in the press from officials and the public decrying the secrecy of Family Court, the limitation of the maximum sentence which can be imposed, the fact that Smith is a repeat offender, and that a semi-automatic was used. The bulk of remarks were for Smith's being treated as an adult bringing to the fore the debate over the age at which a youth should be subject to waiver to adult courts in cases of serious crimes.

The public perception that juveniles are "coddled" in Family Court, resulting in their delinquencies escalating to violence, seems to be supported by Smith's reported prior arrests. Yet to immediately propose handling the case in adult court is a knee jerk reaction and a quick fix solution representing the punishment side of the rehabilitation vs. punishment debate which surfaces whenever a heinous crime is committed by a youth. Although understandable, it may be just as well that in Smith's case it cannot be done. Serious legislative consideration with public input can now take place.

While Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro said he was seeing an increase in violent crime at a younger age, there are no statistics substantiating that view available to the public at this time. There are few studies which measure the number of youthful violators in a population let alone the number of violent acts. Recently reviewed data and literature on the subject have concluded that the perceived increase in youthful violence in the United States is not so much reflective of any real increases as of the mass media's interest in the problem of youth crime.

Those who want to prosecute youthful offenders in adult court seem to be less concerned with the trial part of the proceedings (although they decry the privacy of The Family Court) than they are with the severity of the sentence. They seek punishment in the form of long-term incarceration.

Those who prefer to treat youthful offenders in The Family Court adhere to the principle that young people do not yet have the capacity of adults to control their behavior and to think in long-range terms. For them to reject rehabilitation of teenagers is to deny the fundamental characteristics of that transitional stage of life.

New York State passed a law in 1978 allowing children under 16 years of age to be prosecuted for certain felonies in their State Supreme Court rather than in Family Court – thus subjecting them to punishment as adults rather than juveniles. Statistics provided by the State Division of Criminal Justice Services two years after passage reveal that a large majority of the cases that were handled under the law were dismissed in Criminal or Supreme Court or sent back to Family Court for adjudicating or sentencing. Further, only about 4 percent of all arrested received longer sentences than the three-year maximum "restrictive placement" that could have been imposed for the same crime in Family Court.

Although some members of the public thought the law had made a dent in juvenile crime, Court officials expressed opinions that the law actually had minimal impact that its outstanding virtue lay in its greater sentencing potential but that that had no certainty as a youth sentenced in adult court might be more leniently treated than if his case was sent back to Family Court. In New York State at least, it appears automatic waiver for those under 16 to be prosecuted in adult court has not met the goals of protection of the public through punishment nor of reduction in juvenile crime but has drawn more children into the adult court system.

Adult prisons rarely, if ever, have suitable programs for the young. Recently it has been reported that already-scarce programs in Hawaii's prison system had to be curtailed as funds were used to pay excessive overtime to guards. So when one thinks, "If a fifteen year-old has committed an adult crime, he should be treated like an adult," it may be well – considering the outcome – to think again.

The State League can be assured that the careful study which resulted in its position in 1981 is standing the test of time. It remains the basis for continuing opposition to reducing the age of waiver from the Family Court and for fostering habilitative programs both in the community and in Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility that better serve the youth of Hawaii.

Catherine Tignac

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