The Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville chapter of the League of Women Voters joined forces last year with Californians for Justice, Coleman Advocates for Youth and Families and other organizations to fight against Proposition 21, the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act.
The League is concerned with the effects of Proposition 21, and on Thursday night, more than a year after the proposition passed, 60 members of the chapter came out for the group’s annual meeting to learn about juvenile justice in the post-Proposition 21 era.
“We’re very much concerned with youth and youth at risk. Our positions point to wanting to help teenagers and younger children get back on the right track,” said Jo Ann Price, president of the League of Women Voters’ local chapter. That concern led the chapter to invite Alameda County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte to address the group’s annual meeting at the Northbrae Community Church.
According to Harbin-Forte, Alameda County has seen only four or five cases in which the district attorney referred a young person to adult court to be tried, as Proposition 21 allows.
Proposition 21 increased the number of circumstances under which a juvenile offender can be sent directly to the adult court system; eliminated discretion in juvenile sentencing and increased the penalties for youth convicted of certain offenses.
Harbin-Forte said she believes the juvenile justice system needs reform, including more prevention programs for young people and rectification of the problem of the over-representation of youth of color in the system. She encouraged the League of Women Voter members to become involved with children in the juvenile justice system by becoming court-appointed children’s advocates.
Although the local chapter of the League of Women Voters voted at the Thursday night meeting to continue to support juvenile justice policies which “promote services to meet the needs of Alameda county youth and minimize delinquency,” it has no plans to take any action to demand reforms in the juvenile justice system.
Its priorities for the next year are education (specifically, closing the achievement gap), the completion of the Berkeley General Plan, and housing in Albany, Berkeley and Emeryville.
The state League of Women Voters, on the other hand, is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Proposition 21. Along with Coleman Advocates and Peter Bull of the Youth Law Center, the state League has filed a lawsuit contending that the proposition addressed three issues: juvenile court, gangs, and three strikes legislation. According to the California Constitution, an initiative may only address a single subject. The case is on hold while other cases challenging Proposition 21 are considered by the California Supreme Court.
The Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville chapter of the League of Women Voters has 400 members, the third largest in California and is “very energetic,” says one member who’s been involved with League chapters throughout the state.
Its decision making process is slow but thorough. Before deciding to take action on an issue, a chapter studies the question for two years. Then its actions are usually limited to lobbying for legislation or filing a lawsuit on concerns ranging from campaign finance reform to energy deregulation. For more information or to become a member, call the chapter office at 843-8824.