Op-Ed: Prosecuting Children as Adults is Cruel, Inhumane

As a public elementary school teacher in San Jose for 14 years, I have learned that prosecuting children as adults is ill-advised and inhumane.

We must do better with our children.

On Feb. 25, the California Supreme Court unanimously upheld SB 1391, a law that prohibits prosecuting 14- and 15-year-olds as adults. Several California prosecutors, including Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, challenged this law. Had their misguided challenges succeeded, many young children, predominantly Latinx and Black youth, would have faced incarceration in the adult criminal system.

Childhood matters. We should treat children differently from adults because they are in fact different. Our response to children who commit crimes must be rooted in science and compassion—not vengeance and fear.

Research shows that young people who have done harm fare better in the juvenile system. They are less likely to commit new crimes when they are given age-appropriate treatment and education in that system.

Many young offenders are themselves victims of abuse and neglect. Many have disabilities, live in poverty, are unhoused, have behavioral issues, and have survived trauma. In this way, they are very much like some of the students in my classroom.

Every school year I greet 30 new, young students with great potential. Many also have challenges and disadvantages that most of us have not experienced.

Many of my students are one, two, three or even four years behind the benchmarks for their grade level. One or two students (and sometimes more) have already been labeled as “troublemakers” and “disruptive.”

These students need the most attention. They do not need to be isolated, shamed, reprimanded or sent to the principal’s office or another room for punishment.

These students need extra help—just as the children who commit crimes need the services provided in the juvenile system instead of being detained as adults in a system that only inflicts more damage.

I know from experience it is the rare child who does not respond to attention and special services. I could share many examples, but one student in particular stands out. He came to my classroom three years behind in learning and with a three-year legacy of being a serious disciplinary problem. I gave him as much extra attention as I could without taking away too much time from my other 29 students.

It helped, but it was not enough.

Fortunately, that year I also had a volunteer who donated a day every week to my classroom. I asked her to focus on this student by helping him with reading and math, and by giving him extra support and encouragement as well as small rewards for his progress. By the end of the year, this student had caught up and was at grade level. And his disruptive behavior and anger had all but disappeared.

He became a class leader and a role model.

It is critical we give young people an opportunity for rehabilitation by keeping them in the juvenile justice system. The California Supreme Court’s ruling affirmed that children, even those who commit serious crimes, are different.

They need love, support, and treatment, not prison and punishment.

SB 1391 is a great start, but Jeff Rosen and other California district attorneys still charge and punish 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

Let’s take the next step and stop prosecuting all minors as adults. Doing so will be good for them, and good for society.

Ryan Garcia-Ganan teaches elementary school for the San Jose Unified School District. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].


  1. SB 1391 was upheld. There is no point for this op-ed. Political grandstanding at its finest.

  2. We all understand the physiology. We also understand how sick the Left has gotten as well as tired of the worst crimes and perpetrators. The Left is hypocritical, as always, too; it’s likely many of those who want penalties reduced for adolescent criminals also are among those who want the voting age lowered, as the Left has long sought. (So they can join other children of all ages voting the expected way)

  3. “Had their misguided challenges succeeded, many young children, predominantly Latinx and Black youth, would have faced incarceration in the adult criminal system.” — Ryan Garcia-Ganan

    “Young children?” As a teacher I would expect you to have respect for precision when communicating, yet in a piece about prosecuting offenders as adults you modify the noun “children” with the word “young” in its adjectival form. To describe a fourteen or fifteen year old as a “young child” identifies you as either dishonest, disrespectful of readers, delusional, or some combination thereof.

    By the way, I notice you don’t seem to have any interest in sharing your opinion about the racial disproportion of young offenders, who have battled for the one and two spots going back to the 1950s. Since these “young children” have spent the vast majority, if not the whole, of their lives as the charges of parents and school teachers, which of the two groups do you feel are most responsible for their falling behind in grade, disruptive behavior in class, and involvement in serious crime?

  4. would it be better if we incarcerated the patents for the crimes of the children, would that get these young children not to destroy society? Asking them to behave seems to high a bar.

  5. Articles like this need to include data such as how many minors are currently being prosecuted as adults in the County. They should also include their ages, the specific charges, and a summary of the allegations. Otherwise, the piece is misleading and does not embrace transparency. The author makes it seem as if minors are being prosecuted as adults for petty offenses. This approach (of asserting “young children” are under attack in San Jose) attempts to pull on people’s heart strings without providing all the relevant information. As a result, the author loses credibility.

  6. It’s beyond ignorant to equate children struggling in school to teenagers committing class A felonies such as murder, rape, kidnapping, child abuse, etc. Also please show the recidivism rate on teenagers who committed these felony offenses, who then were kept in the juvenile system and released at 25. Don’t be surprised when those rates of continuing violent behavior as adults are sky high.

  7. The voice of our educators is so important. Over the past 20 years our local court system has become incredibly cruel when it comes to children. Our family courts are worse. Silicon Valley money has fuled the ability of private divorce lawyers to weaponize chiildren whoes parents are invovled in divorce or custody matters, for profit. Last week at a hearing before Judge Stuart Scott ( former Santa Clara County proseuctor -buddy of Jeff Rosen and Sam Liccardo ) held a hearing in a case where he appointed minor’s counsel Elise Mitchell. That is a private attorney paid to represent children during their parent’s divorce. There was a great deal of discussion over the mother being on supervised visation and alcohol testing. During the hearing Ms. Mitchell rasied the issue of the mother’s mental health . This is never done out of concern for the children a lawyer is appointed to represent, it is an effort to charge more money. The father, from a wealthy real estate related busienss in Gilroy, has had no attention from the judge, depiste the fact he is an admitted abuser and alcoholic. He pays all the legal fees in the case,. He pays to be protected and for court orders that have less to do with his children, and more to do with getting these private lawyers paid. It is a pattern and pracitce repeated in every courtroom in this county for the past two decades. The testimony in the hearing before Judge Scott turned to why the mother had not used all of her court ordered supervised visitation ( a whopping 4 hours a week) . The mother’s lawyer noted she could not afford the $100/ hr she is ordered to pay to see her own kids. This did not phase Judge Scott who has been publically admonished for sexually harrassing government lawyers while on the bench. He treats most mothers as he did this one. In line with that , Judge Scott called the mother on the carpet to ask for how she had spent her support money such that she could not afford the 4 hours a week the court ” graciously” gave her in supervised visitation. She noted becuase she had incurred over $380,000 in legal fees in a 4 year divorce proceeding and now could not afford to see her own children. The father has 99% custody time, No judge, or local lawyer, is looking at how the father is spending his money or time with the children. To the commentor who noted this is about politics: NO- it is about the money that supports our local DA, judges and elected officials. Supervisors Susan Ellenberg , Cindy Chavez, Joe Simitan and Mike Wasserman have allowed this to happen to our children as they have been our elected offiicals. This culture is entirely created by the DA Office under Jeff Rosen’s management and supervision. The money taken from these children and their parents keeps these courts going and keeps DA Jeff Rosen in office, where his wife is a judge in the most secret juvy court of all. It is the local vote and political donations from these private lawyers that keep these judges and DA in office. I lived in Gilroy for over 20 years. I assure you that no child who endured abuse, alcoholic parents or poverty ever had the benefit of the local courts ordering parents to pay lawyers $380,000 in the “best interest” of those children. The money of Silicon Valley has funded for the bad actors in our local courts. It is time to be honest about what that really means when it comes to our children. It is also time to note the role DA Jeff Rosen has played on two generations of the children in Santa Clara County and why we should all be concerned that he wants to be AG.

  8. Let’s just get to the bottom line. Leftist like Ryan don’t want anyone prosecuted. He sees all criminals, particularly those of “color,”as the real victims of an oppressive white totalitarian society. Right, Comrade Ryan?

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