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Juvenile Justice
Program #1908K1
Original airdate: January 30, 2001

Produced and Directed by
Janet Tobias and Laura Rabhan Bar-On

Written by
Michel Martin and Janet Tobias

Correspondent
Michel Martin

ANNOUNCER: Marquese has been stealing since he was 12. Jose took part in a deadly brawl. Manny and a gang brutally attacked a family. Shawn stabbed his father. They were all under 18, but should they be tried as adults?

Tonight FRONTLINE correspondent Michel Martin investigates the new face of Juvenile Justice.

MICHEL MARTIN, Correspondent: [voice-over] There are times when it seems as if everyone in America is having the same bad dream, frightened by our own kids, by images of a few of our young committing acts so violent, so cruel, so unchildlike, it defies understanding. Across the country, communities are saying that they have had enough. They are demanding that violent kids, repeat offenders, be prosecuted as adults.

    KURT KUMLI, Supervising Deputy District Attorney: [court hearing] He is a 17-year-old charged with attempted murder. You've got multiple victims-

MICHEL MARTIN: Unlike the adult system, the juvenile courts are normally closed to the public. But in the wake of increased attention to young offenders, the judges of Santa Clara County, California, granted FRONTLINE a sweeping court order allowing us complete access to their courts, juvenile facilities, probation officers and counselors.

This is a rare look inside the world of juvenile justice, at the most serious offenders. For more than a year we watched the fates of four young men. We watched as the juvenile justice system tried to sort the salvageable from the lost.

Shawn

MICHEL MARTIN: This is 17-year-old Shawn, from the affluent community of Los Altos. He is charged with attempted murder. The victim is his father.

CHUCK, Shawn's Father: Your Honor, as you know, I am Charles, and Shawn is my son. We are here today because Shawn seriously injured me during an early-morning-hours event on December 26th, 1998. It was pretty tough. My wife and I were shocked and devastated. Neither of us understood why our son had tried to harm me.

MICHEL MARTIN: It happened on Christmas night.

BARBARA, Shawn's Mother: I awoke to screaming. "Oh my God, please help me! Oh, my God, please help me!" That's all I ever heard.

CHUCK: I had no idea what was going on. It was absolutely pitch dark. I had no idea who was attacking me. I knew I was being attacked. I told Barbara to get out of the room and call 911. And once the person was on top of me, I was able to feel their face, and I realized it was my son.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] That must have been an awful feeling.

CHUCK: I wasn't thinking about awful at that point, I was thinking about survival.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] Shawn was stabbing his father repeatedly in the arms, neck and head.

DAVID SOARES, Deputy District Attorney: It was really a vicious attack. He almost put out an eye stabbing him in the head. Tendons in the father's hand were severed. The doctors had told him that the throat wound had come within millimeters of severing his carotid artery, which would have killed him. He would have bled out long before he got medical attention. And the attack went on.

CHUCK: I was able to roll him off the bed and to pin him until he stopped struggling. And then, for the first time, he spoke. And he just said "I'll stop. Just get off me." And he got up, and he started to walk out, and I came right behind him. And he headed right into the kitchen and grabbed a knife and tried to slit his throat.

MICHEL MARTIN: Police and medical help arrived. Shawn went to the hospital in one ambulance, his father in another.

BARBARA: When I finally saw Shawn, he was sitting in a chair in a fetal position, just sobbing. And I just hugged him and I said, "Shawn, my God, what happened?" And he said, "Mom, I don't know. The police keep saying I did this, but I don't remember anything."

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] When did you realize what you had done?

SHAWN: When I was sitting in the hospital room. Cop came in, and he was, like, "OK, I want to interview you. I'm going to take you down to the station."' I said, "What- to interview- what- for what?" He said, "Don't play dumb." You know what I'm saying? "You're just going to make things harder for yourself." I said, "Well," you know what I'm saying, "I really don't know what you're talking about." He said, "You're going to- you're going to get charged with attempted murder. And if- if he dies, you're going to get charged with first-degree murder."

MICHEL MARTIN: And what was going through your mind?

SHAWN: I thought I was dreaming. I thought- you know what I'm saying, I didn't think it was reality. I thought it was just another messed-up dream that you get when you smoke too much weed.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] Shawn had smoked marijuana the night of the attack. In fact, Shawn had been using drugs for months.

STAN FADDIS, Probation Officer: You have to look at every case individually because there's a lot of things that are going on with that kid that you don't know about until you- until you find out.

MICHEL MARTIN: When he investigated, Shawn's probation officer found that the house behind the white picket fence contained a family unraveling because of drug use. Shawn was asked to leave school for the second time because of drugs. And he wasn't the only one with a substance abuse problem. His mother had a drinking problem. When Shawn's father left town, which he did often for business, his family spun out of control.

STAN FADDIS: His dad would leave town, and he would tell Shawn not to let his mom drink while he's gone. Well, Shawn would bring his friends to the house. They would party there, and his mom would know they were smoking marijuana. But then Shawn would tell his mom, "If you tell on me, I'm telling on you," because he knew his mom was drinking.

MICHEL MARTIN: Shawn had one earlier brush with the law. Along with another boy, he had taken money from a younger kid. Shawn was charged in juvenile court with strong-arm robbery.

    CHUCK, Shawn's Father: [to Shawn] You are not guilty of attempted murder. Whether or not you want to run the risks and the- and the gauntlet you're going to have to go down to prove that, it's completely up to you.

MICHEL MARTIN: Now Shawn is facing the possibility of being tried in adult court. If convicted of attempted murder there, he faces a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life. Shawn's parents believe Shawn did not intend to hurt his father, and they hope they could persuade a jury of that, but the possibility of such a stiff sentence is terrifying. When prosecutors offer a deal - under which Shawn will plead guilty, but remain in juvenile court - they consider it carefully.

CHUCK: The priority was to keep this in juvenile court. At all costs, we wanted to stay there, and therefore we had no choice. We either were going to ensure that it would stay there- the safest thing to do would be to plead guilty to the charge and then to look at the circumstances of the crime during the decision on how Shawn should be treated.

MICHEL MARTIN: Shawn decides to take the deal.

    BRIDGETT JONES, Supervising Dpty Public Defender: [court hearing] The issue before this court really is where do we go from here? What do we do? That's the real issue.

I felt very strongly that this was a young man that had some redeeming value and that we could actually put together a rehabilitative plan for him that could be successful. The prosecutor felt very adamantly the other way, that he was- had some serious problems, was a threat to society, and needed to be locked up for a very long period of time.

MICHEL MARTIN: The case is being heard by Judge Thomas Edwards for disposition, the juvenile court term for sentencing. In an effort to understand Shawn's behavior, the judge orders an independent psychological evaluation.

And the psychologist comes back with an intriguing report. He says the attack seemed to be "the outcome of an altered state of consciousness" coming from "disturbance of sleep." So Shawn's public defender prepares a new argument in his defense: Shawn was sleepwalking when he attacked his father.

Shawn is sent to a prominent sleep clinic at Stanford for a full evaluation by Dr. Rafael Pelayo.

Dr. RAFAEL PELAYO: We can't be sure what really happened that night, but sleepwalking could have definitely explained the acts of that night.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] Why does sleepwalking seem like the most credible explanation to you?

Dr. RAFAEL PELAYO: Well, these type of behaviors, they're a lump- as a lump sum, they're all called "parasomnias." They usually occur mostly out of slow-wave sleep or deepest type of sleep. Shawn had been sleep-deprived. He had been staying up late, which increases slow-wave sleep. He smoked marijuana that evening. That also is reported to increase slow-wave sleep.

And finally, he has no real memory of this happening. When I spoke to him, he seemed to not have real- he didn't have any real memories of it, and he seemed remorseful about all this.

MICHEL MARTIN: There is no doubt in your mind that he was sleepwalking?

CHUCK: I have no proof, 100 percent proof, but I've looked into my son's eyes on many occasions and talked about this with him, and I believe that he is telling me the truth.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] But in court, the prosecutor presents his own sleepwalking expert, Dr. David Claman.

    DAVID SOARES, Deputy District Attorney: In your opinion, is it medically probable that Shawn was acting without consciousness of his acts due to sleepwalking at the time of the assault on his father?

    Dr. DAVID CLAMAN: No, it doesn't appear medically probable to me. The most common situation to see violence in sleepwalking situations is when there's an attempt made to restrain the person who is doing the sleepwalking. So clearly, here, based on the description of events, there was no attempt at restraint, as his father was lying in bed, sleeping.

MICHEL MARTIN: Although Shawn has remained in the juvenile system, the stakes are still high. The defense wants Shawn to receive psychological and drug counseling in a local facility. The prosecution wants him sent to California's toughest facility for juveniles, the California Youth Authority.

    BRIDGETT JONES, Supervising Dpty Public Defender: It's our assertion that a Youth Authority commitment would be detrimental to Shawn and to his family. This is a situation- the underlying conflicts that are in this family need to be resolved by this family. Family counseling is virtually unheard of at California Youth Authority. That doesn't happen. And this is definitely a family problem.

    This was a time in their lives when things started to spin out of control all the way around. They spun out of control for Mom, they spun out of control for Shawn. Mom has a problem with alcohol. I'm happy to say that Mom has consciously chosen to deal with that since she has come into this system, but that was a big issue for this family. This young man will not be a future behavior problem. When he's clean and sober, he's not a violent person.

    DAVID SOARES, Deputy District Attorney: There are many warm words spoken, but this is not a sleepwalking case, and I don't buy into the sleepwalking theory for one minute. This is an extremely grave offense when someone tries to kill someone. The Youth Authority really is the only alternative that's available for this severe criminality. Submitted.

MICHEL MARTIN: Shawn's case is so unusual and the testimony so in conflict that Judge Edwards postpones his decision, with a request for more information. He sends Shawn back to juvenile hall to wait.

Jose

    VOLUNTEER CHAPLAIN: There have been young people making bad decisions for a long time. God knew that you guys were going to make bad decisions, and that is why he gave you some instruction.

MICHEL MARTIN: Jose is Shawn's roommate in maximum security.

    VOLUNTEER CHAPLAIN: How many of you guys realize you're on the wrong road now?

MICHEL MARTIN: Jose was only 15 when he was arrested. The charge was murder.

Sgt. SANTIAGO TREJO, Homicide Unit: If there is one thing that comes to mind when I think of the scene, it's the smell of blood, because it was all over.

MICHEL MARTIN: In the fall of 1998, Jose was involved in a brutal fight. Jose, a gang member, was hanging out in an alley with four other kids. Two were recent immigrants from Mexico. Everybody had been drinking for hours.

Sgt. SANTIAGO TREJO: The fight starts. And then it just becomes like a frenzy.

MICHEL MARTIN: The two immigrants suddenly became the target. Soon 16-year-old Hugolino was on the ground.

Sgt. SANTIAGO TREJO: Several of them take turns hitting him with a branch that had been sawed off one of the nearby trees, breaking the skull and casting off some of the pieces of skull onto a nearby fence.

Sgt. PETE RAMIREZ, Homicide Unit: They didn't stop. They didn't stop. They continued after- after they knew that he was offering no resistance and that he was down, defenseless. This is probably one of the worst beatings I had ever seen.

MICHEL MARTIN: In the end, Hugolino lay dying in the alley. The other terrified young immigrant escaped by scaling a fence, breaking his ankle in the process. As the commotion reached the neighbors, Jose and the others fled.

JOSE: Nobody deserves to get what he did. When you see that it's so easy for somebody to, you know, just be gone, you know, and you think, you know, you're involved with the gang and everything- it- it could be, like- it's very easy for it to happen to anybody, you know?

MICHEL MARTIN: Like Shawn, Jose also faced the possibility of being tried as an adult. If convicted of murder, he could have received a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

But the police reports revealed mitigating information. It turns out that soon after Jose and another participant ran away, they found the second victim, who was struggling to get home on his broken ankle.

Sgt. SANTIAGO TREJO: He was crawling between yards, trying to hide, when they come across him. And they offer him help, which was kind of odd.

MICHEL MARTIN: They took the survivor home and helped him clean up. Then they let him call his family.

[on-camera] Are you sorry for what happened?

JOSE: Yeah. And somebody asked me one time if I would be able to say sorry to the family, if they would come to court. And I- and I probably wouldn't because, you know, I felt too ashamed to even, you know, try to talk to them because I know how they probably feel.

DAVID SOARES, Deputy District Attorney: We looked at what was the level of participation in the assault, how criminal was he, how culpable was he. And in Jose's case, his participation in the assault, at least from the evidence that we had and from the statements of the participants in the assault, we saw that his involvement wasn't that high.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] As they had with Shawn, prosecutors offer Jose a deal, but a different one: Move to adult court and plead guilty, but to the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. Maximum sentence, four years.

But before deciding on a sentence, the adult court judge sent Jose to the California Youth Authority, which houses the state's most violent kids. Jose was sent to undergo a 90-day psychological evaluation.

SCOTT EWBANK, Defense Attorney: The Youth Authority is very thorough. A psychologist interviewed him. There was also a report from a master's of social work. And they concluded that if he received what the Youth Authority, their system, could offer, that there was no reason for him to go to the adult system, where much less, if anything, would be offered to him.

MICHEL MARTIN: Back in adult court, Jose, who once contemplated spending his whole life in prison, gets a very big break. Telling Jose he wants to give him a chance to turn his life around, the adult court judge sentences Jose not to prison - not even to time at the Youth Authority - but to 208 days in the local juvenile hall.

Jose was surprised and greatly relieved, but the victim's family and the homicide investigators found the judge's decision troubling.

Sgt. SANTIAGO TREJO: I think what people should realize is that, in these cases, for every kid that maybe might turn around, there were some real victims on the other side of the equation.

Sgt. PETE RAMIREZ: We have a victim who is not able to make any type of choices anymore. That victim's gone. He's dead. From the family's perspective, you would want to see that at least they feel that justice is done. I don't know necessarily in this case if they feel that justice was done.

Manny

MICHEL MARTIN: At 14, Manny was convicted in juvenile court of rape. Now, at 17, he is back in court, charged with attempted murder. Prosecutors are demanding that he be tried as an adult. If convicted, Manny could go to prison for more than 20 years.

    COURT CLERK: Department 10 is now in session. The honorable LaDoris Cordell presiding. Be seated, please.

    LaDORIS CORDELL, Superior Court Judge: All right. Good morning. We are prepared to proceed with this fitness hearing.

    The burden is on the juvenile to establish that he is fit to remain in the juvenile system, as opposed to being tried as an adult. It is the request of the people that he be found unfit and therefore placed in the adult system. All right? We're ready to proceed.

MICHEL MARTIN: Because of the prosecutors' insistence on moving Manny to adult court, today Manny begins something called a fitness hearing. It is unique to the juvenile system. These hearings do not focus on guilt or innocence. Instead, the question is whether Manny still deserves a chance at rehabilitation in the juvenile system.

In the fall of 1999, Manny and two other gang members attacked a family in his neighborhood.

MARIA BRAVO, Crime Victim: I thought I was going to die. I heard glass flying, and the first thing on my mind were my kids, so I ran out of the washroom. I didn't make it all the way out because someone pulled me by the back of my hairs, pulled me by my hairs. And then I seen someone coming towards me.

MICHEL MARTIN: Maria was pregnant when she and four others were beaten and stabbed.

KURT KUMLI, Supervising Deputy District Attorney: Manny, along with two gang members, attack a woman who is six months pregnant with a baseball bat, hitting her repeatedly in the stomach. They stab other individuals. Four people are injured in an attack that involved bats and knives. Manny has, as result, been charged with four counts of attempted murder.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] Should people be afraid of you?

MANNY: Nah, they shouldn't be scared, you know what I'm saying? What for? I'm not no Jeffery Dahmer or nothing like that. You know, I'm just a normal guy, like any other guy, except maybe I grew up in a different neighborhood, you know? I live on the East Side, San Jose. It's not like a real Beverly Hills type of neighborhood, you know, where you got the, you know, security guards rolling the streets, you know, patrolling your neighborhood.

It's got a bunch of drunk men, you what I'm saying, just going to the liquor store to buy more beer and just, you know, fed up with themselves because they live in a filthy place, you know? The way I look at it, when you're in a gang, you're hated by many and you're loved by a few, but you're respected by all, you know?

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] In court, at Manny's fitness hearing, probation officer Bruce Bell is about to take the stand.

    COURT OFFICER: -the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

    BRUCE BELL, Probation Officer: I do.

MICHEL MARTIN: In the juvenile system, probation officers like Bell evaluate kids to decide if they can be rehabilitated. Working independently of both the prosecution and the defense, the probation officer prepares a fitness report for the court.

Judge LaDORIS CORDELL: Fitness is based upon five criteria. One, the degree of criminal sophistication of the minor. Two, whether the juvenile court can rehabilitate the minor during the time the juvenile court has jurisdiction over the minor. Three, the minor's previous delinquent history. Four, the success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to rehabilitate the minor. And five, the circumstances and gravity of the offense that now brings the minor before the juvenile court.

    SCOTT CHRISTENSEN, Defense Attorney: Mr. Bell, isn't it fair to say that the primary issue in relation to each of the five criteria is amenability to treatment?

    BRUCE BELL: Yes.

    SCOTT CHRISTENSON: So essentially, in the first four criteria, you concluded that he was fit on those four criteria. Is that right?

    BRUCE BELL: Yes.

MICHEL MARTIN: But the prosecutor questions whether Manny can be rehabilitated.

    KURT KUMLI, Supervising Deputy District Attorney: With respect to previous delinquent history, how did you reach the conclusion that someone who has been arrested five times and has a sustained petition for rape prior to his involvement in the instant case, is fit for juvenile court?

    BRUCE BELL: Well, when I assessed it, I viewed it as- as a young man who could go to California Youth Authority, as compared to going to state prison and being tried as an adult. There are many kids that are his age and even younger that would go to the California Youth Authority based on this type of delinquent history.

MICHEL MARTIN: Probation officer Bell believes that the juvenile system has programs that can still help turn Manny around. But Manny has yet to face the crucial question, the gravity of the crime.

Marquese

    COURT CLERK: Marquese is present in court this afternoon, and this matter is on calendar for a fitness hearing.

MICHEL MARTIN: In Judge Nancy Hoffman's court, Marquese is also starting his fitness hearing. Unlike Shawn, Jose and Manny, Marquese is not charged with a violent crime. But in the slang of the system, 17-year-old Marquese is a frequent flyer. He has seven felonies on his record, all related to theft.

KURT KUMLI, Supervising Deputy District Attorney: I have never seen a case where someone has been up through everything that the system has to offer as many times as Marquese, taking it right to the edge. Two months before his 18th birthday, he commits two burglaries.

JOANNE RISKIN, Crime Victim: I came home, and I knew something was wrong. I noticed immediately that the drawers in both my son's room and in my room had been completely emptied. They took a lot of electronics, besides stealing the car and the things that were in the car. They took a lot of jewelry that had been handed down to me from both Bob's family and from my family.

More than anything besides losing the things, it's losing that sense of security.

BOB RISKIN, Crime Victim: When I think about the chance that Joanne might've pulled in at the time that people were in the house, I can't help but wonder what their reactions would've been, whether they would have run or whether they would have confronted. And I guess you never know the answer to that, do you. But in this case, somebody wasn't hurt. The next time around, somebody might be.

    COURT CLERK: Do you solemnly swear the testimony you are about to give in this case shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

    LAURIE COOPER, Probation Officer: Yes.

    COURT CLERK: Please have a seat.

MICHEL MARTIN: The prosecution has called Laurie Cooper.

    Judge NANCY HOFFMAN: Go ahead.

    RICK GARDNER: Can you tell us your occupation?

    LAURIE COOPER: I'm a deputy probation officer for San Mateo County.

    RICK GARDNER: Do you get kids on a regular basis who you believe can be rehabilitated?

    LAURIE COOPER: Yes.

    RICK GARDNER: Are most of the kids you handle like that?

    LAURIE COOPER: I believe everyone is capable of rehabilitating

    RICK GARDNER: OK. Given that kind of a view, what's your view of this minor and his willingness and possibilities to be rehabilitated?

    LAURIE COOPER: I believe the services were provided, and despite those services, he continued to break the law.

    RICK GARDNER: Do you see him as a- essentially a career criminal?

    LAURIE COOPER: Yes.

    RICK GARDNER: That's all I have, Your Honor

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] When did you start breaking into people's houses?

MARQUESE: The summer of '97.

MICHEL MARTIN: You remember it clearly?

MARQUESE: Uh-huh.

MICHEL MARTIN: How come?

MARQUESE: Because my cousin had came down from Atlanta, and one day it was just, like, "Let's break into a house." So we broke into a house. And we didn't get much, but now it was, like- to me it was, like, fun, you know, the adrenaline. It was, like, up there. And so we kept doing it.

MICHEL MARTIN: Were you looking for anything in particular?

MARQUESE: The main thing we were looking for, money. That's it, you know, and whatever came after that came.

MICHEL MARTIN: How did you figure out whether people were home? Did you go up and ring the doorbell?

MARQUESE: Yes.

MICHEL MARTIN: Really?

MARQUESE: Uh-huh.

MICHEL MARTIN: And what if somebody was home? What would you- would be your excuse for standing there?

MARQUESE: Be, like, "We're trying to go to Disneyland. Can you help us go to Disneyland? You want to buy a candy bar?" or something like that.

MICHEL MARTIN: So did you ever feel bad about this while you were breaking into people's houses?

MARQUESE: I felt bad. I felt bad because it's, like, I know it wasn't right, but I still did it, though. I figured, like, if I kept doing it, maybe I- I would come up big, and then I would- I'd stop doing it, you know?

JOANNE RISKIN, Crime Victim: I'm a mother and I- and I know what it- what I would want for my son if he did something wrong. On the other hand, I also know what it feels like when something is done over and over and over again that, in fact, he knows is wrong and he's going to have to pay the price for it.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] Back in juvenile court, Shawn and his family are still waiting. After a two-week break, Judge Edwards comes to a decision.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: It's the court's concern to assure not only a true rehabilitation of Shawn but to assure the public a measure of peace of mind and security in the future, so that whatever we do now is done effectively. That is, that we don't have to worry about Shawn having another homicidal impulse that he carries out in the future against either a member of his own family or some third party.

    So the court therefore will find that the best interests of Shawn requires that he be observed and diagnosed in a manner that can be only had at the diagnostic and treatment center of the California Youth Authority, that he be placed there for a period not to exceed 90 days, and that the director of the Youth Authority-

MICHEL MARTIN: It is a request for still more information. Like Jose, Shawn is going to the California Youth Authority for a 90-day evaluation. Only then will the judge make a final ruling. Shawn's parents are angry and frightened about what might happen to him at CYA.

CHUCK, Shawn's Father: He is a non-aggressive kid. And he's not that big a kid. Most of the people that are in that he system are bigger. He would be a target. CYA, as far as I can tell, based on their recidivism rate, is nothing more than a training ground for adult criminals.

SHAWN: I'm afraid to go to the California Youth Authority. I mean, I was just in shock, you know what I'm saying? I couldn't really believe this judge had actually sentenced me to California Youth Authority, based on all the evidence. And so I went back into my room, and really, the first thing I started thinking about was, "Wow, I better start- better start doing a lot of push-ups."

JOSE: When he was leaving, he was worried about where he was going and how it was going to be and stuff.

MICHEL MARTIN: Shawn asks Jose, who recently returned from CYA, what to expect.

JOSE: He asked me, like, "What's this place like? What is my race going to tell me when I get there?" You know, "What kind of gangs do my white people have, and what kind of gangs are over there?" When he came in, he was- he was a cool guy. You know, he was kind of soft here and there. Now he's, like- he talks with a lot of slang, and he's more rough on things and more rowdy.

MICHEL MARTIN: On the trip to CYA, Shawn shows off his new jailhouse persona.

    TEENAGER: We're off to see the wizard!

    SHAWN: [to teenager] My first case I came up here for was a strong-arm robbery, and I served, like, 12 days hard time and got out. And then my second charge, like, this time, I was only out for, like, a month and a half. Then I got locked up on an attempted murder charge. And they- they were going to do me in, folks.

    They- they said they were going to pile on, like, an assault and battery with a deadly- personal use of a deadly and dangerous weapon, like conspiracy to commit murder, some shit like that. They were going to do me in, folks! And then they were going to take it to adult court, too, and I would've lost because those are some serious-ass charges. If I would have got found guilty, I would have been up on the 15-to-L spot. I'm, like, "I'm straight. I plead guilty as hell. "I'm guilty as sin. Don't do me like that."

I've learned how to walk a certain way and talk a certain way. I've learned how to carry myself offensively. I've learned- learned how to talk like a- like a gang-banger. I mean, my parents are always telling me, you know what I'm saying, "Why do you talk like you're black?" And I say, "I can't even control it anymore." It's, like, sometimes you forget who you really were, you know what I'm saying? I mean, that's one of the hard things about being in jail is you kind of lose your own identity.

    GUARD: All right, men. We're at YA. Just keep it down. We can get through this real quick.

JOSE: Right now, he's getting evaluated, so everything he does he's under a microscope. They watch him. Over there's a lot different people tend to try to make you fight and try to encourage you to do things that ain't right. And if he's willing to do it, they'll make him do things that ain't cool.

    JUVENILE HALL COUNSELOR: Getting up? Come on, get up!

MICHEL MARTIN: While Shawn is being evaluated at CYA, the daily routines back at Santa Clara County's juvenile hall continue.

    COUNSELOR: OK, gentlemen, listen up! You are going to be getting ready for school. Come out, do your hygiene, take it to set up quietly. You've been very loud lately. You're going to pay consequences for that. Take care of business today. Let's have a good day, gentlemen.

MICHEL MARTIN: Here in juvenile hall, even in the maximum-security unit where Jose is serving his sentence, the emphasis is on rehabilitation. [www.pbs.org: Read opinions on rehabilitation]

    JOE MANGELLI, Juvenile Hall Teacher: First two hombretos come on down.

I see my role here as trying to create a sort of a community. It's not for me to judge what they did or what they didn't do. I don't want to get into that. That would cloud the issue.

    [to youths] These are the words that you looked up yesterday. I know you don't know them, but just give a listen. First word is imperiously. Imperiously.

    JOSE: You just want us to listen, right?

    JOE MANGELLI: I want you to write it down, if you can. The next word is mottled. Mottled.

Jose, when he first came into the unit, was always very likable, but he also had a kind of an inferiority complex. And I had to almost convince him that he should complete things because he thought, "Oh, I'm not- I can't graduate and I can't do this."

JOSE: I was never out long enough to go to school because I was always getting locked up. The first time I came in here, I was 11 years old. And then I came back when I was 12 and 13 and 14 until now.

JOE MANGELLI: I think that we pretend that these kids come from "normal backgrounds" - in quotes - and that's not the case. Jose was sort of a throw-away kid. He was gang-affiliated at a young age. And I know he's been homeless for a long period of time. I know that there's been a lot of trouble in the family. So he didn't have much before he came in here.

MICHEL MARTIN: Jose's one image of childhood is very much like the childhood itself, brief and blurry. His father disappeared soon after he was born. Jose says his mother began drinking when he was a boy, and eventually she disappeared. Left to his own devices, Jose found a different kind of family, a gang.

JOSE: I was, like, 12 years old when I got these tattoos. If you have a tattoo like this, you are affiliated with the gang. These are Nortenos, Sorenos. And that's what the dots represent. This didn't hurt too bad. Not really.

MICHEL MARTIN: The gang life led to alcohol and drugs. Some 69 percent of the kids in Santa Clara County's juvenile facilities have a severe substance abuse problem. By the time Jose's father reappeared, his young son was a serious addict.

ANTONIO, Jose's father: When I did run into him, that's when I realized that he was, you know, doing- smoking weed, drinking beer, you know? And I mean, I used to see him so loaded. I used to pick him up. I'd put him in a shopping cart and push him down the street to get him home. You know what I mean?

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] He'd be that drunk or high?

ANTONIO: High. Yeah. He got into smoking that PCP and all that, you know, nasty stuff.

MICHEL MARTIN: What's this here? Is that a tattoo? What is that?

ANTONIO: Yeah, actually used to be an XIV, but I covered it up.

MICHEL MARTIN: What does that mean?

ANTONIO: It's like, northern.

MICHEL MARTIN: Really? Oh so you were doing that, too?

ANTONIO: Yeah. I had my background, too. I participated in gangs. I've done my time behind bars. I've had my heroin addiction, I've had my alcoholism, you know? And that's why, in so many ways I- I look at my son and it hurts me because looking at him is like looking at myself, you know, because I- you know, they say out of- one of your children is going to come out to be like you.

    COUNSELOR: You know you have a visit at 4:30, right?

    JOSE: At 4:30? Yeah.

    COUNSELOR: Yeah.

    JOSE: I hope he comes, man!

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] Today Jose's father has scheduled a visit.

JOSE: If he comes 10 minutes too late, they won't let him in, 10 minutes too late or so. We talked about it. It's all right if he don't come.

    They didn't call for my visit, Logan? They didn't call for no visit?

    COUNSELOR LOGAN: No, not yet.

    JOSE: I won't get it. It's too early. I knew he wouldn't come.

    YOUTH: Have faith! Have faith!

    JOSE: Yeah. He's probably working still. Yup.

No visit. He ain't coming. Still working.

    INMATE: Identify the people that we need to work with. Organizations, schools, creditors, and people who will support me, et cetera.

    COUNTY JAIL COUNSELOR: OK, so who's maybe your most important person in a 12-step program?

MICHEL MARTIN: Although Marquese is still waiting to find out whether he will be tried as an adult or as a juvenile, because he is now 18 he has been transferred to an adult facility, county jail. When Marquese first arrived, he was placed in the general population. He asked that he be moved. Now he is in a unit offering a substance-abuse program, although Marquese does not have a drug problem. But it seemed safer.

MARQUESE: It was like, man, I just seen a lot of old people there. I was kind of shocked, you know, so many old people would be there. And it was like, man, I guess they didn't learn, neither.

MICHEL MARTIN: Marquese will stay in the county jail until his fitness hearing in Judge Hoffman's court is over.

    COURT CLERK: Good afternoon, Your Honor. For the record, the matter before the court is item number seven on this afternoon's primary calendar.

MICHEL MARTIN: His public defender, Gilda Valeros, is fighting to keep him in the juvenile system, his record clear of adult charges. Valeros argues that Marquese, who spends court time doing complicated long division problems, has done well in juvenile facilities but fallen apart on the outside. She tries to show the court a reason why by describing the homes where Marquese was sent when he was released. She calls Marquese's former parole officer at the Youth Authority, Bernard Norris.

    BERNARD NORRIS, Parole Officer: It was my understanding that the aunt that he lived with may not have been- may not have been the most appropriate person to provide parental guidance for a 17-year-old.

MICHEL MARTIN: Marquese's aunt was a young woman in her mid-20s. And she had also served time in the Youth Authority.

    GILDA VALEROS: What- based on your information, what was the aunt committed to CYA for?

    BERNARD NORRIS: For a 187 PC. Murder.

MICHEL MARTIN: When Marquese and his aunt clashed, he was placed next in this East Palo Alto home with his great-grandmother. But that home was also troubled.

    RICK GARDNER: Did you ever get the impression that the house in East Palo Alto was, like, a crack house?

    BERNARD NORRIS: I did.

    RICK GARDNER: And it was the best placement you could find for him, that he was willing to accept?

    BERNARD NORRIS: That it was home to him.

MICHEL MARTIN: It may have been a crack house, but for Marquese, it was home because his mother was there.

GAINA, Marquese's Mother: My drug of choice was heroin, crack cocaine. I used to drink, smoke weed, take pills and all that.

MICHEL MARTIN: Gaina is Marquese's mother. He is the oldest of Gaina's six children. His father was shot to death when Marquese was 8. Gaina was in and out of jail during Marquese's childhood.

GAINA: Me and Marquese- I used to take him downtown with me stealing and show him how to steal. And then that's how he started off stealing from the stores and stuff.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] You taught him how to steal, how to shoplift?

GAINA: Yeah. Uh-huh.

MICHEL MARTIN: Because you needed the things, or because you just wanted to sell it? What were you doing?

GAINA: When I was stealing from the beginning, it was- I was stealing for me and him. I always- Marquese always had the best of what I felt was the best, by me just taking the stuff out of the stores. And then when I got heavily into my addiction, yes, I used to sell the clothes and stuff, too.

MICHEL MARTIN: Did you ever talk to anybody about what was going on with you and your family? Like teachers or anybody?

MARQUESE: No. No.

MICHEL MARTIN: Why not?

MARQUESE: Well, because I was young, and I felt like it was my responsibility to help- you know, help my family out. And just, like, I felt like I couldn't go- go to them, you know, for anything. It was like I just wanted to keep it inside, maybe, I guess, because I felt probably embarrassed or something.

    COURT CLERK: Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give in this matter shall be the truth-

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] Gaina is now in a drug treatment and job training program. She has been clean for almost six months when she decides to testify about her problems in an effort to explain Marquese's behavior to the court. It will be a familiar story. Over 50 percent of the kids in the juvenile justice system have family members with a criminal history.

    RICK GARDNER: Was Marquese aware that you used these kind of drugs?

    GAINA: Yes, he was aware of it.

    RICK GARDNER: You told him, didn't you?

    GAINA: Not really told him. I tried to hide it from him, but he could see the difference in me. He'd seen the people, the crowds I hung around. He'd seen me doing transactions and all that kind of stuff.

    RICK GARDNER: You selling dope out of the house?

    GAINA: Yes.

    RICK GARDNER: And for how long had you been doing that?

    GAINA: For years.

MICHEL MARTIN: Sitting through day after day of testimony was almost too much for Marquese.

GILDA VALEROS, Deputy Public Defender: There was a minor there who barely stands up for himself, barely speaks for himself, and was barely involved, you know, really, and kind of listening to his life, you know, get played out in every painful detail. And so it became, you know, very personal.

MICHEL MARTIN: As Marquese, Manny, Jose and Shawn make their way through the courts, the debate over whether serious juvenile offenders belong in the adult system is intensifying, even as juvenile arrests for violence are falling dramatically around the country. In California, Proposition 21 is on the ballot.

    PROTESTERS: No on Prop 21! No on Prop 21!

MICHEL MARTIN: If passed, Proposition 21 would give prosecutors far more discretion, making it much easier to prosecute violent and serious juvenile offenders as adults. The debate over the ballot measure consumes the Santa Clara County juvenile court.

Judge LaDORIS CORDELL: The problem is that we're taking 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds, 16-year-olds and we're giving up on them. There are a multitude of young people who commit, some of them, very serious offenses, OK, that can benefit from treatment in the system and do well. And I know this because they've been in my court, and they've proven me right.

MICHEL MARTIN: But supporters of Prop 21 say there is a small percentage of truly serious offenders who belong in the adult system.

KURT KUMLI, Supervising Deputy District Attorney: As prosecutors, we are given a certain trust with respect to public safety, and the hard call sometimes is that, given the nature of an offense or given the nature of an offender, public safety and resource allocation requires that this person should no longer be in our system. [www.pbs.org: Read studies on trying kids as adults]

MICHEL MARTIN: In the heat of the political debate over what to do about young offenders, the kids themselves are often reduced to symbols. But here in juvenile hall, every kid is still an individual.

Charged with attempted murder for a brutal attack on a family, Manny may be tried as an adult. But to the staff, who do not usually probe the details of the kids' crimes, Manny is one more kid they might help.

    CHRIS PARKER, Juvenile Hall Counselor: All right, C & D sections, step out of your doors. You guys ready?

    KIDS: Yes.

    CHRIS PARKER: Huh?

    KIDS: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

    CHRIS PARKER: All right.

We tell them once they enter that door, we have zero tolerance for gangs. If you start any kind of gang fights, any kind of gang retaliation, any gang talk, any gang graffiti, you will never come out of your room. And that was my speech to Manny. Here's the reverse side. If you want to clean yourself up, now is your opportunity. And that very first day he was down, I'll never forget, I was sitting at the desk by myself, and Manny came up to me and he said, "Mr. Parker, I want to get myself together."

    Face the wall!

    KIDS: Face the wall!

    CHRIS PARKER: One! Don't anticipate!

MICHEL MARTIN: Counselor Parker says he hopes to replace the self-esteem kids like Manny get from gangs with self-worth built on personal achievement. He runs a program, the Manhood Challenge.

    CHRIS PARKER: Tired, guys?

    KIDS: Sir! No, sir!

    CHRIS PARKER: You want to quit?

    KIDS: Sir! No, sir!

MANNY: Mr. Parker used to tell us, you know, "If you guys are such men," you know what I mean, "you guys are on the streets," you know, "shooting people, shanking people, but you come in here and you can't even do a push-up," you know, "can't even run for," you know, "five minutes."

    CHRIS PARKER: Thirty jumping jacks. Lead it off for me, Manny.

    MANNY: Thirty jumping jacks, hands to your side.

    KIDS: Hands to your side!

    MANNY: Ready? Begin!

It made me feel kind of proud, you know, like, to finish it. There would be, like, people that would just quit, go to their rooms. I didn't want to be a quitter, you know?

MICHEL MARTIN: One of the reasons Manny wants to improve himself is his son. Manny grew up without his father and now fears he will be missing from his own son's childhood.

MANNY: I never got a chance to be a dad, you know? You know, I was a dad out there for, like, three months, you know? It felt real good. I had my son, I had my family, I had my lady. I don't know. But I gave all of it up in a second, you know?

CHRIS PARKER: Manny's very hungry. He's hungry for wisdom, he's hungry for knowledge. But the streets gave it to him in the wrong way. They made him street-smart and they made him street-wise. I think if Manny had somebody much stronger than him in his life on a continuous basis, then he would have done a lot better than he's doing now.

MICHEL MARTIN: Shawn has now returned to juvenile hall from CYA. His evaluation there did not go well. In his very first week, Shawn got into trouble.

SHAWN: When I first arrived at CYA, I was placed in a room with a child molester. Three days later is when I got my first day actually outside with the general population.

MICHEL MARTIN: It was then, Shawn says, a white gang member approached, flashed a knife, and gave him an ultimatum.

SHAWN: He displayed a knife in plain view, said, "You got to rape him." I said, "Why?" He's, like, "That's a child molester. That's what he gets. That's what he deserves. That's how we deal with child molesters up here. This ain't juvenile hall. This is YA. This is State, bro."

MICHEL MARTIN: That afternoon, a guard on duty was patrolling the hallways. The guard caught Shawn forcing his roommate to perform oral sex.

MICHEL MARTIN: So you forced this kid to copulate you.

SHAWN: Right.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] How do you feel about that?

SHAWN: At the time, I mean, I didn't feel that there were any other options around it, you know what I'm saying? I could have snitched out, you know what I'm saying? If I got sent back to the Y, then I'd- I'm saying I'd have been a punk, and I'd have been getting raped in the ass, and I'd have been getting stubbed and punked for everything that I had.

When you're faced with that kind of situation, you don't react as you would otherwise, you know what I'm saying? It's like- it's like when somebody's got a gun out and they're robbing you. You're not thinking, you know what I'm saying, "Maybe- maybe I'll just punch him," you know what I'm saying, "and try to get the gun away from him."

MICHEL MARTIN: You thought it was what, him or me?

SHAWN: Yeah. That's the choice it comes down to.

    BRIDGETT JONES, Supervising Dpty Public Defender: We're going to get through this, OK? We're going to get through it. I know your parents are panicked. They are panic-stricken, and I understand that.

MICHEL MARTIN: Shawn's lawyer had hoped the evaluation would convince the judge that Shawn was not dangerous and did not need to be incarcerated at CYA. Instead, Shawn has now pled guilty to a new crime. Shawn's chances of staying close to home are in jeopardy.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] Shawn was sent to the California Youth Authority, and his first week there he commits a sexual assault. What was your reaction when you heard that?

BRIDGETT JONES: I was pretty surprised.

MICHEL MARTIN: Did it change your opinion about what should happen in his case?

BRIDGETT JONES: No, it didn't. My opinion from day one was basically that Shawn needed therapy.

MICHEL MARTIN: So now you have a kid who has three violent acts on his record, including a strong-arm robbery of some 11 and 12-year-old kids, a sexual assault of his roommate, in which he was clearly not sleepwalking. Why isn't this just a dangerous kid?

BRIDGETT JONES: He's a sick kid. I think, in terms of public safety, he's better off getting some therapeutic intervention.

MICHEL MARTIN: As Shawn waits in juvenile hall for his final hearing, Jose, his former cellmate, is leaving. After serving 208 days for involuntary manslaughter, Jose is about to be free.

    COUNSELOR: Your rooms look very sloppy, really, really sloppy. A lot of you guys are going to start getting disciplined because-

JOSE: I look at it, like, my last chance, you know? If I mess up, I go to prison. And I've already been told one little mistake, I go to prison. And I ain't trying to mess up because this is a big chance that I got.

    GUARD: You got a second chance. This is your second chance, all right?

    JOSE: All right.

    GUARD: La Razza!

JOSE: I ain't as excited as I thought I would be about getting out. You know, there are a lot of problems out there in the streets and tempting things out there for me. And I know how it's going to be for me. It's going to be hard.

MICHEL MARTIN: At 17, Jose walks out of juvenile hall as a kid, but he will carry an adult record for the rest of his life.

ANTONIO, Jose's Father: It's far too soon to even predict what's going to happen tomorrow, you know? But every father's or every parent's wish is hoping for the best.

    Judge LaDORIS CORDELL: Good morning.

    KURT KUMLI: Good morning.

    Judge LaDORIS CORDELL: All right, we'll continue with cross examination. Mr. Bell, if you'll take the stand? You're still under oath.

MICHEL MARTIN: As Manny's fitness hearing continues, the tide is turning against him, as attention turns to the fifth criterion, the gravity of the crime.

    KURT KUMLI: The fact that you have an attempted murder not just against one, not two, not three, but four victims makes this more serious than a single count of attempted murder, correct?

    BRUCE BELL, Probation Officer: Yes.

MICHEL MARTIN: Manny's probation officer finds him unfit on the last criterion, the gravity of the crime.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] Are you sorry it happened?

MANNY: Yeah. I'd rather- you know, I'd rather be at home right now, so-

MICHEL MARTIN: Let me ask you, are you sorry because you're here, or are you sorry because people got hurt?

MANNY: Both.

MICHEL MARTIN: Are you ready to change?

MANNY: I want a better life, you know? I think change takes time, you know what I'm saying? It's like, you cant just- I mean you could but-

MICHEL MARTIN: But you're not ready yet?

MANNY: I'm not sure if it's- I mean, yeah, I want to change, you know, for my son, you know? I don't want to, like, get out and start roaming the streets and all that again, you know? But if push comes to shove, I ain't going to turn the other cheek, you know? I mean, I still got my pride. So if someone, like- if someone disrespects me or my son or my family or my mother, then that's when, you know, you got to take action, you know?

MICHEL MARTIN: Even if it means getting locked up for a long time?

MANNY: Yeah. It's, like, by any means necessary if you- if you have to, you know?

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] In court, it is time for final arguments.

    SCOTT CHRISTENSON, Defense Attorney: Your Honor, this is sort of an unusual case insofar as the probation officer, who is an independent evaluator, has come in and testified essentially that Manny is amenable, in his opinion, under criteria one through four. The only criteria that he has deemed to say that Manny is not amenable to treatment is criteria number five.

MICHEL MARTIN: But the prosecutor insists that the violence cannot - must not - be overlooked.

    KURT KUMLI: He is a gang member committing a gang crime in the company of other gang members with weapons. You have the fact that he used a knife in the attack. There was at least one victim that was an extremely vulnerable victim. He is unfit on criteria five. And it only takes one.

MICHEL MARTIN: Under California law, since Manny is 17 and charged with a violent felony, if he is found unfit on even one criterion, he must be sent to the adult system.

    Judge LaDORIS CORDELL: I cannot refute the facts here. I mean, they are clear that this was a very serious offense. And I haven't heard of, or there's no evidence of any circumstances that would tend to mitigate the gravity of the offense. It was clearly, under any kind of reading, a vicious attack. So therefore I am compelled to find that he has failed to overall rebut the presumption of unfitness and therefore must now move forward to the adult system. Thank you.

    ATTORNEYS: Thank you, Your Honor.

MICHEL MARTIN: So Manny begins to say good-bye to his childhood. He is transferred to the adult jail, to be processed into the system.

    CHRIS PARKER, Juvenile Hall Counselor: The only thing I want you to do is be cool, chill out. Don't say anything.

MICHEL MARTIN: That night, Counselor Parker finds out, for the first time, the full story behind Manny's arrest.

CHRIS PARKER: Actually, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe he did what he did. The young man that I knew didn't seem like he was capable of doing such a crime.

I believe Manny was in a state of shock. Manny was fearful of what reality is, and what the future is going to be. And I think, all of a sudden, Manny realized what happened and that now he has to pay for what he did. It did bother me. I wish it could have been a different way.

MICHEL MARTIN: In Santa Clara County's juvenile court, Marquese's case has become the longest-running fitness hearing in memory. Finally, it is time for closing arguments. Unlike Manny, since Marquese is charged with a non-violent offense, Judge Hoffman cannot find him unfit on just one criterion. She can only send him to adult court if she finds him unfit overall, weighing all the criteria.

    Judge NANCY HOFFMAN: All right, I understand you're both ready to proceed on your arguments. Mr. Gardner, did you wish to present your opening to the closing argument?

    RICK GARDNER: This is what I would call an extreme case of a history that is so long and so constant as to almost be mind-boggling. There has been nothing at all so far that has shown that he has any genuine desire to try to stop committing crime for a living. It's simply what he does, unfortunately. And because of that, he is not amenable to the juvenile system.

    GILDA VALEROS, Deputy Public Defender: Your Honor, it is not enough that we examine that there is an extensive delinquent history. That's something that we can't deny. But the inquiry actually goes much further, as to what does that delinquent history demonstrate, as far as whether the juvenile courts can still provide resources to significantly reduce the subject's criminal conduct. Submitted.

    Judge NANCY HOFFMAN: Though I may not give the smoothest finding that I could if I took a recess, I'm going to go ahead at this time because I'm looking over at Marquese. I've seen him with his head down all afternoon. And I'm thinking of the stress that he and his mother have gone through in coming to all of these hearings.

    So the first criteria, of course, that I considered was the degree of criminal sophistication exhibited by the minor. I found aggravating circumstances in that regard to be the fact that he planned the burglaries. There was planning involved. So I found him to be unfit under the first criteria.

    Now, the second criteria then was whether he can be rehabilitated prior to the expiration of juvenile court jurisdiction. I found him to be fit.

    On criteria number three, which is his previous delinquent history, he does have eight sustained felonies, not including the current Santa Clara County burglary. However, in mitigation, he had a horrendous childhood - and that word "horrendous" really describes it very accurately - with little or no guidance. So under this criteria of prior delinquent history, I find him to be fit.

    On number four, success of previous attempts by the juvenile court to be rehabilitated, I find him unfit under this category.

MICHEL MARTIN: Having ruled against Marquese on two and for him on two, the judge rules on the last criterion and makes her final decision.

    Judge NANCY HOFFMAN: Circumstances and gravity of the offense is the fifth category. Under that category, I find him fit. Therefore I find Marquese amenable to treatment, for retention in the juvenile court, based on the criteria the court is required to consider.

MICHEL MARTIN: Marquese's stay in adult jail is over. He will be returned to the California Youth Authority.

    JOSE: I got a 9:00 o'clock appointment.

    RECEPTIONIST: What's your name?

    JOSE: Jose.

MICHEL MARTIN: As Marquese and Manny learn their fates, Jose is confronting the difficult reality of life on the outside, where he must still face the consequences of his past.

    ANGEL MINA, Probation Officer: What's up? How're you doing?

    JOSE: Pretty good.

    ANGEL MINA: So what's going on? You bring my stuff for me?

    JOSE: Yup.

    ANGEL MINA: Your dad not here?

    JOSE: No.

MICHEL MARTIN: He is required to meet regularly with his probation officer, Angel Mina. He must submit to random drug tests. He cannot associate with gang members. And he must either go to school or get a job.

    ANGEL MINA: All right, so you just need to- have you looked for a job? Because you're not doing anything. I mean, you're home all day, right? What do you do all day?

    JOSE: I go to the library. I was working for a little bit with my dad.

    ANGEL MINA: Yeah, but I mean- you know, a job where you're going to get your own paycheck. You need to get on that.

    JOSE: Yeah, I know. Well, I put in a lot of applications.

    ANGEL MINA: Have you called back anybody?

    JOSE: Nobody called me back, and then I called a couple-

    ANGEL MINA: You've got to to call them back.

    JOSE: Yeah, I did. But they just say, "Yeah, we'll see. We'll call you," or whatever.

    ANGEL MINA: You keep calling them back, they'll get tired of hearing from you because you can't be sitting on your butt. You've just got to be persistent.

JOSE: Everywhere I go, even to, like, a supermarket or something, everybody asks, you know, "Have you been convicted of a felony? If yes," you know, like, "Why? When? What happened?" You know? So I put it down and, you know, but of course, I haven't gotten no phone calls yet. But I'll keep trying.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] You can see their point? You can see why people might be frightened?

JOSE: Yeah, but I think they should at least, you know, give me a chance, come talk to me, interview me or something, you know, see what I really am like, you know?

ANGEL MINA: I know he's already gone to a temporary agency, and it looked good until, yeah, they came to the part where he had a felony conviction. So I mean, that's something he's going to have to make a decision about. And we've told him, yes, you do have to tell them you have a felony conviction. But there's, you know, obviously other ways to do it. It's not the correct way to do it in this case, so it's really hard. It's really a hard decision for him to make. "Do I tell the truth up front and take the risk of them not hiring me? Or do I just lie, and when they find out, hopefully, they'll like me enough they'll keep me around?"

MICHEL MARTIN: Isn't that kind of a dirty trick, though? For any kid, not just Jose, coming out of the system who wants to make a change.

ANGEL MINA: Oh, yeah. It's hard. It's hard. Same thing for, you know, adult parolees. I mean, it's difficult. But there are people who do find work. It's not impossible, but it's real hard.

As a probation officer, I'm going to try and help you the best I can. I'm not your parent. You know, I can't be your parent. I'm going to do what I can do. But ultimately- it's unfortunate and it might sound kind of hard, but yeah, you're going to have to do for yourself.

MICHEL MARTIN: It has now been more than 15 months since Shawn attacked his father. Judge Edwards is finally ready to make a disposition, to sentence Shawn for the attempted murder. But in addition, Shawn must now contend with the sexual offense.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: Well, we're back on the record again. Since we last met, we have two new reports, plus the diagnostic study that was submitted by the California Youth Authority.

SHAWN: I had Stan Faddis, my probation officer, I had my parents all telling me that, "You're going to CYA based on what happened, based on this report. This report is so terrible, it makes you look like a savage."

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: All right, Shawn, what would you like to say?

    SHAWN: [reading] Your Honor, two days after I arrived in the Youth Authority, I was faced with a choice not too uncommon in prison, and that's to hurt or be hurt. This ultimatum was presented to me by a white gang member wielding a jailhouse shank, which are not altogether uncommon in the Youth Authority, either. I was afraid for my life, Your Honor and that is why I did what I did. Not because I'm a predator, not because I'm sexually confused, because I didn't want to die.

    Your Honor, if I was sent to Sacramento to scare me straight, then this court has undoubtedly accomplished its goal. But if I was sent with an evaluation in mind, then that evaluation was undoubtedly flawed. A person's true character cannot be judged if that character must be changed in order to survive. A true test of my character would be my continued behavior here over a much longer period of time in a safe and secure environment.

    Please keep me close to my family and just keep me safe. For my sake and for that of my family, please, Your Honor, just help me.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: Thank you, Shawn.

    DAVID SOARES, Deputy District Attorney: It's really chilling to listen to him explain that somehow that this was- this was justifiable behavior. He seems to feel justified in acting out violently on his impulses whenever he deems that to be appropriate. And that- that really is the definition of a sociopath. And I think this young man has become a sociopath, and I think that he needs to be kept someplace where he is not going to be a danger to the general public. Submitted.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: OK, thank you, Mr. Soares. I did have an opportunity over the weekend to take a look at my trial notes and these-

MICHEL MARTIN: First Judge Edwards addresses the sexual offense. And he finds Shawn's explanation - that he did it to keep from being a victim himself - credible.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: As far as the 288 goes at the diagnostic center, I think it was obviously disgusting. But I believe it was situational. So I think that Shawn's view of that probably is more accurate.

MICHEL MARTIN: Then he addresses the attack on Shawn's father.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: It's painfully apparent to the court that Shawn's knife attack on his father arose out of an interpersonal dynamic of extreme family dysfunction. It was an expression of Shawn's growing rage. And it may be drug-related. It may be related to a clinical sleep disorder. I don't know. The experts disagreed on that. In any event, since the problem in Shawn's case originates and lies in the family relationships, the solution must also begin there.

    In my view, after considering all the different alternatives that are before the court, the best place for Shawn, as a unique person, to begin that process is here in Santa Clara County in the juvenile hall until he turns 19. YA will always be there if this doesn't work, or if he exhibits anti-social behavior or predatory behavior. So the community can be assured that it will be safe while we're trying to fix this young man and get this family back together in a healthy fashion.

    BARBARA, Shawn's Mother: [weeping] Oh, thank you!

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: Why don't we take a short recess, dry our eyes and then we'll come back on the record, and I'll make my findings and orders accordingly.

    CHUCK, Shawn's Father: Barbara, you don't cry when you- when you're successful.

    BARBARA: Yes, you do!

DAVID SOARES, Deputy District Attorney: At the end, I think everyone in that courtroom was ready to fall out of their chairs. And I think that it was a tremendous injustice that was done in this case, not just the fact that we didn't treat this individual the way that he should have been treated, in my opinion, but that we have created a perception in the community that certain people are going to be treated differently in the system because of where they come from.

MICHEL MARTIN: Even Shawn's attorney is surprised by the decision.

BRIDGETT JONES: Shawn got a break. I mean, that's the bottom line. He got a break because we have a lot of sick kids and they aren't treated the same way he is.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] Is that fair?

BRIDGETT JONES: No, it isn't. The system is not fair. Institutional racism is alive and well in the juvenile justice system.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] Judicial ethics prevent Judge Edwards from speaking about the specifics of Shawn's case. But he did respond to general questions about the equity of the juvenile justice system.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] Many of the kids we've interviewed believe that white middle-class kids get a break, that they are more likely to be kept at home, they're less likely to get the stiff sentences, they're more likely to be given opportunities to continue their education. Do you think that's true?

Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: Well, all the studies and the statistics say it is true. There is a disproportionate minority population in our custody facilities, and there shouldn't be.

MICHEL MARTIN: Why is that fair that the system seems to be so inclined to, I don't know, tolerate these disparities?

Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: Well, it all depends on what perspective you're giving it. Probably most judges, who would want to be defensive about it and argue with you, would say pretty much something like this. They would say kids who come from inner cities are more likely to come from a minority group in our culture.

They also come from areas that don't have strong neighborhood resources. Their parents do not have enough money to provide the type of supervision that a kid from, say, an affluent white neighborhood would. So why should the system then put these kids in custody, the white affluent kids, when the parents can do as good or a better job spending their own money doing it? [www.pbs.org: More on whether the system is biased]

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] In addition to allowing Shawn to serve his time in Santa Clara County's juvenile hall, Judge Edwards gives him permission to leave during the day for counseling sessions, Narcotics Anonymous meetings and classes at the community college, all fees paid by his parents.

DAVID SOARES: I'll always wonder, is this young man going to re-offend? All I know for certain is that he did try and kill his father. And what's most chilling about the case is that we don't know for sure why.

SHAWN: I'm not saying unequivocally that parasomnia is what happened. And I'm not going to say it was the drugs. I really don't know. You know what I'm saying? An equal belief to me is that, you know what I'm saying, God made me do something just completely terrible in order to take me away from that situation. God works in mysterious ways to get you away from things that you shouldn't be doing. And if it takes something so serious, then so be it.

MICHEL MARTIN: At the California Youth Authority, Marquese is in a program that emphasizes job training. He is currently on a landscaping crew. He comes up for parole in the fall.

JOANNE RISKIN, Crime Victim: Originally, I really felt that he should tried as an adult. I just wanted him to be responsible. I'm not sure that would have been the right answer, and that perhaps this is the right answer. What I feel most bad about for him is that why didn't our system take him out of the environment completely when he was young to give him a different kind of a life?

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] So you think the system let him down?

JOANNE RISKIN: Our society let him down.

MICHEL MARTIN: Would you be optimistic for you?

MARQUESE: No.

MICHEL MARTIN: Really? Why?

MARQUESE: I don't know.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] Marquese struggles to believe in his own future. Public defender Valeros struggles, too.

GILDA VALEROS: He is so attached to his family. He loves his family dearly. Unfortunately, it affects him very deeply when his mother can't maintain her sobriety, and I think he absorbs her failure as his failure. And really, you know, kind of, like, "What's the point of trying?" You know, "Things are just going to stay the same."

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] Some people might think you're going to have to cut your moms loose a little bit. Do you think you- that might be the case?

MARQUESE: No. I can't never do that because that's my mom, you know, and, it's, like, whatever people say, it's- that's just their opinion because I could never do that, though.

MICHEL MARTIN: Marquese just loves you. I mean, he is so protective of you. You know, it's really sweet, but it's also heartbreaking, in a way. I sometimes wonder whether his loyalty to you keeps him from making better decisions for himself. Do you ever feel that way?

GAINA: Yes, I know exactly where you're coming from because that's how I used to feel about my father. He was doing what I was doing towards Marquese, like, selling drugs, using drugs. But my daddy was my daddy, and I looked at him like- my God, you know, he was my everything, you know what I'm saying? But now that I'm here to break the cycle, I know that's wrong. I would never do that to none of my children no more.

MICHEL MARTIN: So you really think you're the defining factor here in his life. If you get your stuff together, then he'll be straight.

GAINA: No, I don't want to- I don't want to say it like that. I know he's got to make his decision on his own. But I believe that once I go on the right path, he will follow behind me.

MICHEL MARTIN: Which made it even sadder this summer when Marquese's mother, Gaina, was asked to leave her rehab program. She was sent to Valley State Prison for Women for three months. When we last visited Marquese, he wanted to know why his mother had not written. No one had yet told him what had happened to her.

Last summer, Manny pleaded guilty to seven counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Last week he was sentenced to nine years in state prison. He now has two adult felony convictions, or "strikes." If he commits another felony, he could be sentenced to life in prison under California's "three strikes" law.

MANNY: It might as well be a done deal. Two strikes. I'm only 18 years old. I plan to live till- till I'm, like, 50 or something. I ain't perfect, so I don't know. I don't think I'm going to make it, you know? I don't think I'm going to stay out for good forever.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] What helps kids?

LaDORIS CORDELL, Superior Court Judge: Attention being paid. If the young person comes in and knows that people in the system care, that works. And these kids ought to have an opportunity to be a part of that system so we save them, so they become productive. That's how society benefits. If not, fine. Let's go spend a ton of money every year, and let's just lock these kids up. They're going to get out one day, and what do you think? They're going to be back here in our faces again, and we're going to be spending more money than ever.

KURT KUMLI, Deputy District Attorney: There is a rehabilitative effect in incarceration. Now, is there a risk that you are taking by putting these people in state prison? Well, absolutely, there is. And that is obviously a risk that you have to consider. But if a person has shown, either by their current offense or their history of repeated offenses, the fact that they are a threat to public safety, you know that for the period of time in which they are locked up, the public is safe from their acts.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] "Do an adult crime, serve adult time" is increasingly the law of the land. This past March, the voters of California followed the national trend and passed Proposition 21, their "get tough on juvenile crime" bill. Under Prop 21, Manny and Jose would have gone directly to the adult system. And in Marquese's case, a finding of unfitness on just one criterion, rather than the majority, would have sent him to adult court, a fate previously reserved for violent offenders.

Critics of Proposition 21 say it is chipping away at the heart of juvenile justice, rehabilitation.

Judge LaDORIS CORDELL: We have completely eliminated individualizing the system, looking at this particular person to determine whether or not this person ought to go on to be treated as adult or not. It is absolutely now gone out of the system, in certain kinds of cases, for children as young as 14 years.

MICHEL MARTIN: [on-camera] Why does any kid belong in adult court?

KURT KUMLI: The juvenile justice system, when it comes down to it, is a question of resource availability. We are a system - because we are financed by the taxpayers - of limited resources. To optimize those services for the kids that can benefit the greatest amount from them, you have to make the hard call sometimes as to whether or not the high-end offenders are the just recipients of the resources that the juvenile justice system has available to it.

MICHEL MARTIN: [voice-over] As for Shawn, he got into trouble again for using illegal drugs while serving his sentence in juvenile hall. When he thought that his probation officer knew and had proof, Shawn took off. When he was arrested four hours away in another town, he was high and belligerent. Officers used force to restrain him.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: OK, do you understand the nature of all of those charges?

    SHAWN: Yes.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: And are those charges true?

    SHAWN: Yeah.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: OK, is the matter submitted, counsel?

    PUBLIC DEFENDER: Yes, Your Honor.

    Judge THOMAS EDWARDS: The court finds that the subject has, in fact violated his previous court orders as alleged in the November VOP petition.

MICHEL MARTIN: Judge Edwards will sentence Shawn, now 18, for the probation violation next month.

And then there is Jose, the youngest of the group, the one who was charged with the most serious crime. After five months of rejections, Jose finally got a job with a local parks department.

JOSE: I think that I've changed a lot because I understand- I understand what life's about. And I know what- what it's going to lead me to if I don't change. And some people, they know. Like, we all know, but some just don't care. Some don't care about what they want to do or what they're going to be, but I kind of- care about myself, you know?

ANTONIO, Jose's Father: Deep inside, you know, like I told him, "I'm glad they got you, and I'm glad- I'm glad that they rescued you because, you know, if they wouldn't have arrested you, you wouldn't have been rescued."

MICHEL MARTIN: Jose is a symbol of the possibilities. But his is a success story built on a tenuous foundation. He got the job only after a nurse at the juvenile hall put in a good word with a friend. College only became possible when the staff at the hall donated books and a bike so he could get to class. And Mr. Mangelli, his former teacher, calls often to offer encouragement.

JOE MANGELLI: I think the lesson of Jose is that he is what some of these kids might have been, if given a chance. He's made it, and I think he's going to make it, because people cared. And I think that he's going to be a good citizen, and I think that's what society's all about. He's our kid. You know, he really is our kid.

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ANNOUNCER: This report continues on our Web site, which offers profiles of the young men featured in the program, with assessments about each by judges, case workers, family and lawyers, facts on juvenile crime and success rates in rehabilitating juveniles, a history of how U.S. attitudes have changed over the decades on how to deal with young criminals. Then join the discussion. See what others thought about the program and add your own comments at pbs.org. Or you can send us an email at frontline@pbs.org or write to DEAR FRONTLINE, 125 Western Ave., Boston, Massachusetts 02134.

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