Graduation day looks different in the courtroom, but it is no less an accomplishment. For William Davis, it is a life-changing event. Davis is the 29th graduate of the Court Program for Young Adults in Orange County.
Juvenile court is not about punishment – it is about protecting young people from a lifetime of repeat offending after entering the legal system as a young adult.
“We want these young men to not commit a crime for the rest of their lives because when you have a crime on your record for the rest of your life, you always have to check the box. “It means you’re closed to opportunities,” says Elizabeth Cauffman, a professor of psychology at UCI and one of the program’s founders.
In California, there are over 700 places where you are not allowed to work, even if you have been convicted of a lowest level felony. For example, you cannot get a dog handler license in California if you are a felon. For young people who still have much of their lives ahead of them, very few options remain.
“Either prison or dead,” says Noah Linkon when asked where he would be without Young Adult Court. He graduated in April of this year and took his life down a different path.
“Ultimately it’s up to you to help yourself, but this program allows someone to look at their life from a new perspective in one way or another,” Linkon said.
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Launched in 2018, the Young Adult Court offers 18- to 25-year-olds who have committed minor crimes the opportunity to clear their records by meeting certain requirements. This includes visiting schools and courts, counseling and looking for a job. The final day is a celebration with the family and other stakeholders who helped develop the so-called Youth Action Plan.
“I just want to say that I’m thankful and thankful that they have the program, that they’re giving all of us in the younger program the chance to change our lives and show them who we really are, that we’re not criminals “that we are not bad people,” says program participant Jamariae Smith.
Participants will be randomly selected and their performance will be tracked to determine the effectiveness of the program and opportunities for replication across the country.
“We are exploring different avenues and alternatives for a criminal justice system so that we can achieve better public safety outcomes for those who serve in the justice system and achieve successful outcomes that we can all be proud of as a community.” “One criminal justice community and one larger community,” said Orange County Superior Court Judge Maria Hernandez.
“If we want our young men to succeed and return to our community as productive citizens, we must find a new way of doing things. Hold them accountable, but not with a label that essentially tarnishes them forever,” Cauffman added.