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Pendulum Is Finally Swinging Back On Excessive Prosecution Of Juveniles In Oregon

In Oregon, for over twenty-five years prosecutors have had sole discretion in trying juvenile offenders as adults in court. This was dictated by Ballot Measure 11. However, the Oregon Legislature has since pushed back on sending adolescents to adult prisons and now enables many of them to remain in the juvenile court system, with far less extreme punishments.

Before the passing of Senate Bill 1008 in 2019, youth were often sentenced to adult prisons for committing serious crimes. This policy was described as “tough on crime.” From 1990 through 2010, youth that were held in adult prisons rose to nearly 230 percent. Despite these numbers being cut dramatically in 2020, this does not mean all children being prosecuted as adults has stopped entirely. High percentages of youth still being sent to prisons range from those coming from poverty, children who are of color, children with disabilities and more.

Particular crimes in which youth were often prosecuted as adults involved assault, sex offenses, murder and robbery. Juvenile armed robbers for example, were often immediately sent to adult prisons instead of being transported to juvenile systems because of the severity of their crime.

Prior to the enactment of SB 1008, Oregon had become one of the top states for arrests and incarcerations of youth. However, U.S. Supreme Court rulings deemed capital punishment and life without parole to be too cruel for adolescent defendants. Due to the 2019 changes, prosecutors no longer dictate whether a juvenile is to be tried as an adult. Judges now solely hold this right with specific exceptions.

Youth crime prevention is important, and though only implemented recently, the implications of the Oregon Legislature’s decision will allow many Oregon youths to receive proper punishments for their actions and stay within juvenile walls.

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