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photo of a prison door closingdiscussion: What are your thoughts about this report? Do you think that the justice system is biased?">


Dear Frontline:

As an attorney and part-time college instructor I thank you again for yet another perceptive piece on the California Juvenile Justice system. I have these criticisms however.

First, while much social policy on youth and crime is based on sensational news reports from urban centers such as Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose, many at risk youth live in more rural regions of the state and the country as a whole. Juvenile justice issues in those communities tend to involve lower income whites. This an area of juvenile justice and inequities based on class that desperately needs to be exposed and discussed.

My second issue is concerns the ever increasing numbers of girls and young women who are committing criminal acts. What is frightening about this development is that the children of these young women often themselves fall prey to the inadequacies of the foster care system and the juvenile dependency system which by many professionals are strong predictors and precursors to juvenile crime and delinquency. The four young men you featured were predictable outcomes of the tattered system of care we as a society provide for our children.

The costly imprisonment of these youth well into their adulthood only diverts resources away from solution oriented alternatives including parent training and education; substance abuse and rehabilitation counseling; and programs that promote the development of healthy functional family units.

Daphne Macklin
sacramento, california


What a wonderfully done report! I've been depressed ever since I watched it. The issues are so complicated and the kids are so poorly equipped to make good decisions . . .

One question, though: Both Shawn and Jose were given great breaks in court. Why was racism brought up with Shawn's case because he's white? This seems unfair.

Jazmyne Fuentes


Fine work again by Frontline! I would add something new to the story. Check out New Zealand's approach to the youth crime problem. I did.

After teaching for 25 discouraging years in Maine youth corrections, I heard about family group conferencing and restorative justice in New Zealand. Not believing the supremely sensible tale told by a NZ judge, I went to see for myself in 1996. It was true - accountability by offenders and concern, respect and restitution for victims. All this without the duplicity of the adversarial process and the vengeance of the retributive mentality. See "Changing Lenses" by Howard Zehr and "Healing the Effects of Crime" by Jim Consedine. Check it out; it's not that far away. I got there and felt good about possibilities in my work for the first time.

Bill Davis
Portland, Maine


I am a prosecutor and former juvenile probation officer in Pennsylvania.

The fact that your title suggests that we are giving up on these exceptionally violent youths is ridiculous. Most all juvenile offenders are given repeated opportunities to adjust their behaviors before being placed in the more structured adult prisons. All four of the youths profiled in your report would be in an adult facility in Pennsylvania, and rightly so.

Until the youth internalizes treatment or flat out decides that he does not want to spend his life in the custody of the state, no program, no matter how effective the juvenile program. Juvenile placements are not the panecea, nor are adult jails the bowels of hell. Many people do time in adult facilities and never return. It is a choice.

The true problem is generally the parents. As the saying goes most nuts don't fall far from the tree, and sadly enough that is the case with most children.

We should be removing children earlier than we do. The problem is that every system starts with probation and graduates to placement. We should require all parents to participate in placement with their children. Until the parents of the delinquent children are invested in changing, the chances of being successful as a juvenile will not improve.

Michael Ferguson


I was channel surfing and ran across the program. Thank God I did. I work for a faith-based program in Boston, the Ella J. Baker House. The kids featured in the program are the kids we see on a day to day basis. My only concern with the program was that it did not speak to the growing number of girls in the Juvenile Justice system. We visit girls in Juvenile Justice facilities who are locked up, forgotten and their needs misunderstood. We as a society can no longer ignore this alarming trend. Our girls are in such desperate need and we can no longer place them in boy programs that have been painted pink. There needs are different and so the response should be different. Please make girls part of your focus for the next special. Their lives depend on the spotlight shining in their direction. thanks

Bridgette Wallace
Boston, MASS


I was both heartened and discouraged at this outstanding Frontline program. I was glad to hear the word "rehabilitation" often in the piece. I wonder if that concept is considered much at in Virginia, where the practice of herding criminals into jails and keep them away from us has reached avalanche proportions. These delay tactics for easing our need for immediate gratification and instant solutions will not work.

I am heartened to a call for action. I'd like to contribute to helping some of these kids by spending time with them, caring, listening to them, learning from them, and maybe, teaching them a little. What systems are in place to get more of us involved? And as I write this, there is the reservation in my mind that worries I will make myself vulnerable to a sociopath like Shawn, and my fear kicks in.

There are no easy answers.

Dal Paull
Norfolk, VA


I saw myself in almost all the young men presented in your excellent report. As a teenager I was a thief. I soon realized that I was addicted to stealing when I could not walk home from school without "scoping" for my next hit. I decided to stop before I got caught. I did get arrested for breaking and entering.
One day when i was about 15 years old, I was nanoseconds of killing someone. Thank god I did not. The victim was totally unaware of my actions. At the moment it did not occurr to me that having not pulled the trigger was in itself a profound consequence. 2 days later, a simple word of affection from my mother sparked a thought in my mind. I pondered the likelyhood that the intended victim, who was a year or two older than I was, had a mother who loved and cherished him as I was by my mother. How sorrowful it would be for her to loose her son in an instant of thoughtless anger, I wondered. From that moment on I am completely shocked, and almost paralyzed with fear that I came so close to causing so much pain to so many people.
I am in my late 40s. I am in the medical profession and I have a preteen son, an a loving wife. That nanosecond is the most frightening experience of my life.
My opinion concerning the four young men in your report is that they all deserve a chance, with the one exception of Shawn. He has proven to me that he will continue to hurt others. I am fearful that they might harm me or someone I love. But I also know from experience that we all need a chance. Perhaps some of us need one more. Thank You

Michael F.
Portland, OR


Thought this was a great programme, but a bit to my dismay I found it's perspective disturbingly right-wing, or somewhat vindictive towards the juveniles, almost implicitly condoning harsh measures of punishment towards them. For example especially harsh was the unsympathetic view of the program host and the probation officer where the poor kid got out of jail and was struggling to find a job: no support at all---"just figure it out for yourself"! With such indifference and callousness as this, it is easy to see why these juveniles continue to falter and go wrong. Rehabilitation needs a system of support to succeed---not such indifference and negativity as demonstrated here!

Stephen Hitchcock
Seattle, WA


First I would like to say, if the majority of these kids were white, and not children of color, we would not be asking ourselves if they should be tried as an adult, and in that, lies the problem! Unfortunately we live in a society that allows economical, and therfore educationally deprive children to be thrown into cages with harden adult criminals. The solution is simple, do something about the economical instability in the urban and inner cities, and the majority of these problems will disappear. Let's see if that will ever happen!

Najee Abdul-hamid
Los Angeles, California


I was a criminal in the Juvenile system in the late 1970's in Santa Clara County. I had a few great people take the time to show me that they cared.They are employees of the Justice system.I want to thank them for the differences that they made in my life. A life that I have changed.
It really comes down to the ability to get away from bad influences and decide to change.

These people,who took the time to show me their lives, gave me an opportunity to make changes that would affect me for the rest of my life.Their example and ideals helped me to change my path in life, I now have values that are unbreakable. Ms.Cordell, the Judge in tonights presentation,sentenced me to time in jail.

The teachers at the James boys Ranch in Morgan Hill gave me hope and started me off into college.The Juvenile Hall counselors, my probation officer, Robert Kramer, Ray Gipson a teacher at the boy's ranch. All of you helped me gain the confidence I needed to change.

This program to night was so real to me, so touching, I had to say thanks to all of the people who take the time to make a difference in someones life, someone you don't really know. It made a big difference in my life, please keep trying, if you only get to one person, that is worth the effort of many attempts,stay positive.

Mark Meyers
Menlo Park, California


It is about 12 am and I just finished watching your program. I thought that frontline did an excellent job in the discussion of this topic.
I was especially impacted by the story of Jose. Growing up my self in nieghborhoods that were filled with gangs, Jose's story reminded me of many of my friends lives. And of the struggles that they endured after.
These were kids that I laughed with as a youngster in gradeschool and that came to my house for birthday parties when we were little. As we got older the lack of family support and social influences became evident in their life paths.
I couldn't help but associate Jose with some of my gradeschool friends and wonder where they are now.
I wish Jose all the luck in this world.

Cecilia Ballesteros


Your show left me in tears. I am a successful movie producer who has spent endless hours as a volunteer mentor to incarcerated youth in Los Angeles Juvenile Hall. I am currently taken my own money to give a youth offender who has truly been failed by the entire system, a chance to decent legal representation. With out my attention to his case this boy could have been sentenced to life in prison for his first offense. He is not a gang member. He had a knife fight in a park with a gang member who threatened him and admitted to called him out. Nobody died or was permanently injured. The boy's life of severe physical abuse by his father, a life of extreme poverty and neglect and his first abuse went unrecognized in a fitness hearing. The public defender's office told me there was no defense against a DA who has a 95% conviction rate with minority youth in front of a all white jury.

"It takes a village", we can not abandon the youth of our community. Standing by this boy and helping him change his life will effect the 6 younger children in his family. It is a place to start. He is an amazing artist, a good student and he will be rehabilited. I believe in him and that alone has changed this boy's life forever. Believe in a child...Stand by them.

Serafina Morro


I think this was an excellent program...As a mom to teenage child in juvenile hall here in Orange County CA, I found this very much hit home for me and my hubby. I was very enthralled with your stories and saw my kid in alot of these boys. I do believe we can not give up on our youth no matter what they do. if we give up on them there is no hope for their future. To me there is always hope no matter what. We need to try and rehabiltate them as much as humanly possible. Please keep up the good work . I was ultimately touched by these stories deep in my heart.

Dawn Campbell
Cypress, CA


It is not society's fault that these individuals are violent ; blame the parents or lack of parental guidance. These kids are dangerous to society and, therefore, should be locked up. My family and I would sleep a lot easier knowing that the malcontents are safely locked away. Being soft on crime benefits no one except the criminal. We as a people are fed up with the legal system, and we want results. If that means building more prisons, then so be it. My tax dollars already go to several useless programs; public safety should not be one of them. Lock these predators up; I don't care what their age is.

Robert Mallory
Fountain Valley, CA


I think this is a very interesting subject because even though they committed crimes, you have to keep in mind their moral support and background. Sure they are young men now but, the truth is they had absolutely no support from their families as kids. This is where it all begins. Children need guidence, especially young adults. At this age they feel invisible to consequences and therefore sometimes committ crimes. Every child who committs a crime should at least receive some form of therapy, whether in prison or at home. If you give up on a troubled person, then chances are they will never be helped by anyone. Giving up on someone just shows that you no longer care about that person, therefore lowering their self-esteem.

Raul Huerta
El Paso, Texas


The question as to when a juvenile defender should be tryed as an adult is a deceptively difficult one for our society. For we can not even decide if our justice system will treat everyone equally. Given our inability to perform the simplest task, what makes us think we are capable of making serious decisions concering someones future. Are the statistics concerning racial disparities in the juvenile justice system any less criminal. In a modern society the focus should be on intervention not incarceration.

Derek Cody
Columbus, OH


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