by Ryan Khojasteh
Reread that headline. Let that sink in for a moment. Yes, that’s real life. And no, I’m not kidding. Welcome to the progressive bastion of San Francisco in 2022, courtesy of interim District Attorney Brooke Jenkins.
Prior to Brooke Jenkins’ questionable appointment as the city’s top prosecutor, then-elected District Attorney Chesa Boudin had directed the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office to end the practice of seeking to charge youth as adults. This common-sense policy was rooted in the available empirical based research. Treating youth as adults is ineffective, dangerous and actually increases recidivism rates – meaning it’s bad for public safety. The focus of the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation, whereas the adult criminal justice system is focused on punishment. Youth should be rehabilitated through schooling, support services and programming to be put on a better path – whether out of custody or at a juvenile detention facility – instead of adult jail or adult prison.
Did you know that while youth represent only 1 percent of adult jail inmates in this country, they accounted for 21 percent of victims of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence? Did you know that a youth is five times more likely to be sexually assaulted and two times more likely to be beaten by staff in adult facilities than in juvenile facilities? Did you know that a youth is 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than at a juvenile facility? Lastly, did you know that the United States Supreme Court has held that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all youth 17 or younger convicted of homicide are unconstitutional?
The truth of the matter is that a youth convicted of a crime – whether in the juvenile court or the adult court – will be free again in their lifetime. The question we must ask ourselves is do we want them properly set up for a life free of a crime or do we want them so institutionalized and traumatized that they only know a life of crime?
It does not seem that San Francisco’s new district attorney gave this much thought. On Sept. 13, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office officially repealed the ban on seeking to prosecute youth as adults. This did not come as a surprise however. Brooke Jenkins had hinted at doing so ever since her appointment to the job despite fierce criticism. This has now become one of her signature policy initiatives during her short time in office.
Did you know that a youth is 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult jail than at a juvenile facility?
What did come as a surprise, or rather a shock, were the interim district attorney’s recent statements to the San Francisco Young Democrats during their endorsement process for the November 2022 election (the clip of the endorsement interview has amassed almost 50,000 views as of this writing). Apparently, while Brooke Jenkins supports charging youth as adults, she does not support giving 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in elections.
How does that make sense? How can you believe that youth should be tried as adults because they are capable of adult level criminal thinking yet since youth might not know who their state senator is … they aren’t competent enough to vote? I’m having a hard time trying to understand this rationale. I’m sure you might be too. You can’t have it both ways.
It is quite clear, however, that Brooke Jenkins wants to increase youth participation in prisons over youth participation at the polls. Instead of empowering youth to be engaged and have a voice in a system that will determine their futures, the interim DA wants to use that system to oppress them. What a stance for a city leader to take in San Francisco, California, of all places. It is shameful.
I hate to break it to you, Brooke, but many actual adults don’t know who Scott Wiener is. And many people don’t know who you are. Does that mean they shouldn’t be allowed to vote either?
Unsurprisingly, the San Francisco Young Democrats did not endorse Brooke Jenkins to be the next district attorney of San Francisco. And almost immediately after unveiling her regressive juvenile justice policies, San Francisco youth from the Young Women’s Freedom Center and Reimagine Youth Justice Coalition rallied and protested against Brooke Jenkins right outside the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. Another rally was held outside Juvenile Hall on Oct. 21 led by the San Francisco Young Democrats and other community-based organizations to condemn the interim DA’s juvenile justice policies.
At this point, I think it’s likely that the young people of San Francisco will not be voting for Brooke Jenkins this November.
Ryan Khojasteh, a former Assistant District Attorney and a former board member of the San Francisco Young Democrats, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.