Still, advocates of California's Proposition 21 and other laws that favor trying and sentencing juveniles as adults, argue that strong juvenile justice laws are needed because previous laws were just too lenient. The fact that juveniles are continuing to commit certain crimes ignores the point of these laws, they say.
"No law will completely eradicate any crime," said Matt Ross, who led a campaign to pass Proposition 21 last year. "Proposition 21 was designed to deter those who would commit violent crimes from doing so and set up a just punishment for those who commit violent crimes. Before, if a juvenile killed someone, the worst punishment he would face is incarceration in a youth facility until he was 25. After that he could go on with the rest of his life and his criminal record would remain sealed. Meanwhile, the victim is still dead … well, we didn't think that was right."
Ross said that contrary to critics' charges, Proposition 21 does not merely throw juveniles in jail and give up on their future. He said it formalizes the rehabilitation and probation process, requiring juveniles to participate in rehab programs, giving juvenile probation the same standards as adult probation. And he noted that Proposition 21 is not a blanket measure that covers all juvenile offenders — it focuses on violent offenders.
Reaching Out And Not Giving Up
However, some say they are not ready to protect the public by trying the Santana High School shooting suspect as an adult, despite the charges against him.
"Just from hearing interviews with people who knew this child, those who knew him back [in his former home] in Maryland, it seems like there were some pretty harsh, relentless things, some relentless teasing, going on," said Soler. "There are some things I'd like to know before deciding to try this kid as an adult."
Soler said he still believed Tate and Williams should be punished, but their cases have to be considered individually. They should not be judged by the same standards as the most hardened criminals because the circumstances surrounding their alleged crimes are different.
"Anybody who's a parent of a child in these situations believes their child should be punished," Soler said. "But they also want every circumstance considered." If not, Soler argues, no one gets everything they want out of the justice system.
Despite his opposing views on how to combat juvenile crime, Ross pointed out that something must be done to stop children from getting to the point where they feel the need to start shooting people at their schools or go on violent crime sprees.
"We have to start reaching out to these kids, talking to them, whether it be at the home or at school, looking for signs before they even get to that point," said Ross. "We have to figure out some way to reach these kids."