Greenwood murder ignites call for juvenile justice reform

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by JOHN LANGELER / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @jlangelerKING5

KING5.com

Posted on March 6, 2014 at 12:18 AM

SEATTLE -- Calling Washington's juvenile justice system "ridiculously lenient" on handgun crimes, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said Wednesday youths accused of violent offenses should be tried in adult court.

State law allows prosecutors to move 16 and 17-year-olds to adult court if they are accused of serious crimes.  However, juvenile rehabilitation ends at 21-years-old, which Satterberg said is insufficient.

"I think the appropriate role for the juvenile court is to focus on those kids who haven't gotten to the point where they've killed somebody yet.

"Where we've failed as a system in this state is responding to juveniles convicted of illegal gun possession," he said.

Satterberg's contention was motivated by the recent murder of a man in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.  Authorities have charged 17-year-old Byron White with shooting and robbing the victim.

White has no prior criminal record, Satterberg said.

"Once the bullets start flying," he continued, "Once kids are using guns, the juvenile system doesn't have tools to respond."

In the current legislative session, lawmakers are considering a pair of bills to address gun violence and juvenile justice.

One option is to expand how long an offender can be in juvenile detention and supervision.

State Rep. Mary Helen Roberts (D-Edmonds), said the answer is not to put violent offenders into the adult system.

"We have to take a look at what our justice system is for," she said, "If we are focused on punishment, then put them in the adult system and have them sit there for a long time.

"However," she added, "What is it going to take to make them a productive adult.  What is restorative."

Juvenile advocates point to studies showing young offenders often don't comprehend the crimes they commit.

A recent review by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found since 1994, juveniles moved into adult court had "higher recidivism rates" than similarly accused teens who before that year, stayed in the juvenile system.

"If they go through the adult system and come out," said Roberts, "They're more likely to commit another crime."

A recent review by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found since 1994, juveniles moved into adult court had "higher recidivisim rates" than similarly accused teens who before that year, stayed in the juvenile system.

"If they go through the adult system and come out," said Roberts, "They're more likely to commit another crime."

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