Children who are charged as adults spend months in adult facilities pending trial; many don’t end up with convictions, but do end up with collateral consequences such as gaps in high school education and an adult arrest record. Alton Pitre knows this well; growing up in a gang-ridden neighborhood in Los Angeles, encounters with the police were frequent for Alton. In his neighborhood, nicknamed “The Jungle,” Alton was placed on a gang injunction, which made his encounters with the police even more frequent, eventually leading him to get arrested at age 18 for a crime he did not commit. Alton spent many months contained in an adult unit, disrupting his education and ties with his family. After his charges were dropped, Alton was able to finish his high school education and attend community college. Alton is now a full-time student at Morehouse College as well as an advocate with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and the Campaign for Youth Justice.
CFYJ Spokespeople Bureau
Meet the Campaign for Youth Justice’s spokespeople, who have been all directly impacted by the harmful practice of trying and sentencing children as adults, either by experiencing it themselves or through a loved one.
Barry Etheridge was certified as an adult at the age of 16 in a Virginia circuit court for his juvenile offenses. He was later convicted and sentenced, at the age of 17, to serve in Virginia's adult criminal justice system. He entered Virginia’s prison system at the age of 17 with a total sentence of 68 years with the possibility of parole. His circumstances as a youthful offender in the adult criminal justice system, coupled with the challenges he faced until the time he was granted parole in 2016, has not only encouraged his efforts to usher in change, but has served as the backdrop enabling him to effectively communicate those specific circumstances and challenges that he faced. Barry believes that Virginia’s tough-on-crime approach, opposed to the smart-on-crime approach, has truly hamstringed the success of truly advancing public safety. Public safety is not just locking individuals up and throwing away the key, but also coming up with new and improved ways to rehabilitate individuals who offend and find better alternatives to the criminal thinking that resulted with these young people becoming involved with the criminal justice system.
Billy Harris first encountered the Juvenile Justice System was at age 14 when he was charged and convicted of aiding and abetting a criminal. This charge came about after he had given a set of license plates to his half-brother, who had been an escapee from prison and used the plates on a stolen car he was using. His half-brother told the police he had supplied the plates, and Billy received 6 months of probation. Billy was incarcerated at age 16 and sentenced to 35 years for second-degree murder and stealing a credit device. He was one of six teens involved in the beating death of an adult male who had raped his sister's 19-year-old roommate. He served 15 years. Billy has been out for 15 years now and is currently on parole. Through his experiences, Billy believes that the juvenile justice system would be better suited to rehabilitate if it would address punishment in a way that took juveniles’ brain development into account and apply therapy methods that are geared at re-teaching kids a moral thinking process.
Corrine Broadbridge’s son was involved in the justice system beginning at age 12, he was arrested and spent time at a juvenile hall for minor offenses. At 14 years old, he was arrested again and tried as an adult for murder. Her son and two friends were burglarizing a home when the homeowners shot and killed one of them. Her son and the other surviving boy escaped from the home and were later charged with murder. After his arrest, Corrinne’s son endured hours of interrogation and, despite him asking for his mother, the police did not inform Corrinne of his arrest until 4:30 am. Her son was sentenced to 8 years in prison and 10 years of probation. Her son is now 36 and is only now learning to be an adult. He is drug-free and attends regular sessions with a therapist for PTSD caused by his incarceration. Corrine learned through her experiences that the justice system creates anger, distrust, and hopelessness in children, and when incarcerated children are released, they are far more likely to reoffend. She believes that no child should be deemed beyond rehabilitation, Education is the key to developing our youth; they need mentors and people to care about them. They do not need harsh punishment and incarceration.
o At the age 14 Da’Quon Beaver was arrested along with five other people for an armed robbery. He was then certified as an adult and sent to circuit court where he was sentenced to 48 years, with 40 suspended and 8 in the Department of Juvenile Justice. He spent a little over 7 years in the Department of Juvenile Justice where he became a leader in the facilities, as well as a voice for the residents. After he was released from the Department of Juvenile Justice he became very involved in juvenile justice reform, and he spent time working at Legal Aid as a community organizer. Through this experience, he began to grow as a community organizer and as an advocate. From his experiences, Da’Quon believes that there is always a way to deal with every human being, and locking them up is not always the answer. He believes that the best way to address the issue of public safety is to first address the pressing problems within these communities.
At the age of 15, Dradean’s son was arrested, and after 21 days he was direct filed into the adult system. After the trial, the bailiff told her son, “Congratulations, have fun spending the rest of your life in jail.” Prior to this event, Dradean had never been involved with the justice system, but the incarceration of her son made her realize that she had to do something to help her son and other juveniles like him in the adult system. In order to help her son Dradean started a petition in regards to SB 192. She also began researching the laws and constitutional rights of inmates as well as information about direct filing of juveniles into the adult system. After her experiences with the criminal justice system, Dradean has spoken out about the racial bias and double standard that is present in the system.
Eddy Zheng became involved in the justice system by getting entangled in the migration to school to prison and deportation pipeline. As an immigrant coming into this country, he was dealing with the trauma of being uprooted from his homeland and facing language barriers, cultural difference, and generation gaps. As a result, he made many poor choices that led him to committing crimes, one at the age of 14 for petty theft in Alameda County and another at the age of 16 that put him away for 21 years. He was charged as an adult and sentenced to life with a possibility of parole. Eddy believes that the criminal justice system is not effective in advancing public safety because it operates under the system of white supremacy to continue this country's legacy of slavery. The overrepresentation of people of color impacted by the criminal and juvenile justice system is a testament to how race and ethnicity factor in the unfairness of the system.
In 2010, Heidi Nuttall’s son was charged as an adult at the age of 13 with five counts of sexual misconduct. The same year, he was placed in juvenile detention where he was both physically and sexually abused, and in 2011, he entered a plea agreement and pled guilty to four counts. One count was dropped to which he pled not guilty, without prejudice. On Oct. 23, 2011, he was sentenced to 40 years with 36 suspended, and finally, in 2015, he was released to Heidi’s care. One year later, Heidi’s son violated parole. He has attempted suicide several times since his release and struggles to find hope for any kind of future. All of his offenses had been first-time offenses.
Jabreia Quashie became involved with juvenile justice system at age 14 because she was struggling with issues at home. However, she saw jail as more of a safe place than an actual jail facility. She was comfortable there because it gave her a structure but it however gave me a false illusion of how the adult facilities were set up and made her want to come back instead of stay away. As a youth she was involved with drugs, domestic violence, and fights which ended up getting her arrested. She really wants to be able to share how incarceration follows people and that the consequences of being involved in the justice system last for years, especially with probation, which could lead back to reoffending and ending up in jail. Jabreia believes that in some cases the justice system does help with public safety in cases such as domestic violence in order to keep children safe, however, having a conviction on record can cause its own set of problems for public safety.
Jesse De La Cruz got involved with the justice system as a result of the decisions he had made after living in a neglected community and a lack of parental supervision and guidance. Now, he is working to aid in improving the justice system: He works closely with elected officials that represent his district and works as a policy intern at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. Jesse has worked with Assemblyman Miguel Santiago and currently working on City Councilman Curren Price’s campaign. He has done extensive work for The Reef in their community outreach sector by making sure community leaders, citizens, and non-profits know about community meetings regarding urban development and any other projects coming to South Los Angeles.
Statistics show that Latino youth are 40% more likely to receive an adult prison sentence as white youth. If you add to that the struggle and precariousness of being an undocumented immigrant, the consequences can be dramatic for youth. But with the right support system, young people have the ability to completely turn their lives around. Originally from Mexico, Kent grew up in a poor, gang-ridden neighborhood of Los Angeles. At the age of 17, he committed a crime for which he was tried as an adult; he was facing a life sentence. After fighting his case, Kent was sentenced to 7 years in prison. He got an honorable discharge, but was arrested by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement as soon as he was released, as he was undocumented at the time. Kent’s perseverance and transformation convinced the ICE agent to recommend against deportation. Kent is now a full-time student majoring in Political Science and Business, and works for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition to encourage other troubled youth to turn their lives around. Kent also serves on California's State Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, advising the government on ways to improve the juvenile justice system.
When children are charged as adults; their parents aren’t notified of their arrest, nor that the police are interrogating them in connection with a crime. Michelle found these facts out the hard way, when her 16 year old high school junior was arrested and charged as an adult with a felony. Based heavily on the statement he provided to the police (without any legal representation), he was waived to adult court and sentenced to 5 years in prison. Michelle’s son was then released on an electronic bracelet, and resentenced in 2016 after appealing his first sentence. Through this hardship, Michelle has learned a lot about the justice system, and how harmful it is for children to be treated as adults. She is now reunited with her son, and actively helping youth who find themselves lost in the justice system like her son once was.
Nate Williams was a former lifer that spent 32 years in the California prison system. He got involved with the criminal justice system at a very young age, when at about 10 years old, he got involved in gang activities. He was arrested in the 1980's was one of the first juveniles in the state of California to be sentenced as an adult at the age of seventeen. During his incarceration, he was elected by the entire inmate population to chair the Men's Advisory Council. His responsibilities included serving as the principal representative of the prison population to the administrative and custody staff of DVI prison in Tracy, California. He also fought for his own rights through the courts appeal process. He visited Washington D.C. and he spoke with members of Congress during his visit to the White House. He also lobbied to help improve legislation for youth offenders and assisted with SB 260, AB 1276 and SB 261.
Sang Dao became involved in juvenile justice system at the age of 13 he was placed on bench probation and, from there, spiraled deeper into the criminal justice system. At the age of 17, Sang was sentenced to a prison term of 12.5 years due to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for children as young as 15. He was released from prison due to a grant of clemency from the outgoing Oregon governor. Sang was offered a job with the juvenile department from the same county jurisdiction that he went through, and he now works as a Juvenile Counseling Assistant that supervises youth on juvenile probation. He believes that the juvenile justice system can be effective if it responds to underage kids through human developmental approaches. Sang thinks that cultural awareness must be kept at the forefront of policy makers’ minds when addressing the issue of disproportionate minority populations within the criminal justice system. o
Research has shown that children are amenable to rehabilitation and services. However, children who are charged as adults face the same serious sentences as adults. Growing up in a gang-involved family, Sang first became involved with the juvenile justice system at the age of 13. He was placed on bench probation, and from there spiraled deeper into the criminal justice system. When he was 17 years-old, he was sentenced as an adult to a prison term of 12.5 years due to mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines in place in Oregon (Measure 11). Sang currently works for the Multnomah County Juvenile Department – the same one that he went through as a teenager - as a Juvenile Counseling Assistant that supervise juveniles, some once like himself, on juvenile probation. He also sits on Oregon's State Advisory Group, advising the government on ways to improve the juvenile justice system.
Thelonious Stokes first came into contact with the juvenile justice system when his brother was charged as an adult at the age of 17. Having visited and kept contact with his brother as often as possible during his time behind bars, Thelonious became increasingly aware of the way our country’s criminal justice system abandons youth without giving them a fair chance at rehabilitation and rebuilding their lives. After his brother’s case was moved back to juvenile court from adult court following the passage of monumental legislation, Thelonious is now an outspoken advocate for reform in the juvenile justice system. He is talented painter and uses his art to convey the emotional journey he, his family, and his community have taken.
Veronica Williams is the mother of a young man who, in her opinion, was wrongfully convicted. She is on the move for change, committed to a purpose and a vision to make a difference. Veronica hopes to use her voice to combat the obstacles of socioeconomic and social injustices and make an impact through commitment and empowerment, which will leave a legacy for change. She believes the criminal justice system can work, if the laws and policies that are written are fairly and equally applied. She believes that, while there is racism within the justice system, there is a paradigm shift occurring, and people are becoming more aware of the injustice that racism has caused and is causing.