Story and Artwork By Claudia J. Gonzalez
As a formerly incarcerated woman and now a criminal justice reform activist, I was overwhelmed with emotion when I first read about Proposition 57. I immediately thought of my older brother, who at 17 was sentenced as an adult to life in prison. When I lost him to the system, I also lost a part of myself. My life was forever changed. It’s an experience that George Galvis, the executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), and Frankie Guzman, the Juvenile Justice Staff Attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, know all too well. The pair formed part of a team that drafted the legislation and say it will overturn decades of CA policy that criminalize youth.
What inspired you to write Prop 57?
Guzman: My brother was prosecuted as an adult when I was five years old. It changed my life’s trajectory. I grew up to commit a crime that could have easily put me in the same situation. Prop. 57 deals with correcting a major flaw in the justice system. Prosecuting kids as adults is the greatest harm done to young people by the state of California.
Galvis: For me this was deeply personal. As a young person I was incarcerated, and charged with multiple felonies. I could be doing 15 years to life right now, but I received a number of breaks that allowed me to transform my life and give back to my community. But unfortunately, there are not enough alternatives to incarceration … [California] is number one in prison spending and second to last in education. This has got to change. We want young people to be leaders, not end up in prison.
Opponents call Prop. 57 a “soft on crime” bill. What is your response to that?
Guzman: There is nothing “soft” about giving judges the discretion to make decisions…
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