Young adults—ages 18-25—make up less than 10% of the city’s population, but comprise 25% of our prosecutions
Young adults—ages 18-25—are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and their cases are often the most challenging. The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office strives to balance public safety with the desire to maintain young adults with their families and in their communities.
At a time when many young people in our community are embarking on paths into adulthood, guided by opportunities and resources, justice-involved young adults are often adrift, without stable housing, employment or relationships. They typically do not fare well in criminal justice programs and services developed for older adults, an unsurprising reality given that young people are neurologically and behaviorally distinct from the broader justice-involved population. In fact, research on brain and behavioral science shows that impulsivity and poor decision-making, which can contribute to high-risk behaviors, is common for this age group. At the same time, research has also enriched our understanding of the unique and significant effects of trauma and toxic stress on the brains, bodies, and life trajectories of young people.
Given what we know about young adults, an important challenge facing our criminal justice system today is recognizing that while crimes committed by young people must be addressed, traditional punitive actions are limited and often counterproductive. These types of punitive actions do not adequately factor in differences in development between young adults and older adults, are insufficiently trauma-informed and ultimately, fail to address common underlying causes of criminal behavior to steer young people towards a better course.
For more information about the office’s first-of-its-kind initiative to address the unique needs of young adults, click on the link below: