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Frontline received unlimited access to the Santa Clara, California juvenile court system to study four cases over the course of a year. The cases of Shawn, Jose, Marquese, and Manny are presented against the backdrop of changing attitudes about how to prosecute juvenile offenders. California, for instance, was in the process of considering Proposition 21, a law that would insure that many juvenile offenders would be tried as adults.

Shawn is from a middle class neighborhood in Los Altos. His crime: attempting to kill his father one Christmas night. Jose, often homeless, has been arrested for a gang related beating death. Manny, previously convicted of rape, attempted—with fellow gang members—to murder four people. Marquese is the only non-violent offender of the four. He is being charged with theft and already has seven other felonies on his record. Two possibilities exist for each case: being tried as an adult, or remaining in the juvenile system.

Defenders fight to keep their clients in the juvenile system. The juvenile system seems less harsh, with more possibilities for rehabilitation. Prosecutors fight to have them tried as adults by asking the hard questions: is it really possible that Shawn was sleepwalking when he attempted to kill his father? Doesn’t Jose’s involvement in a brutal beating death cross a certain line? Don’t Manny and Marquese’s repeated infractions show that rehabilitation has failed in the past?

Juvenile cases are complicated by the fact that half of the offenders come from dysfunctional families. Jose, Marquese, and Shawn have parents with substance abuse problems. Jose has often lived on the street and Manny found his only sense of belonging in a gang. Even when the juvenile system steps in, they may place the youth back into an unbalanced family situation. Even when the system seems to help someone, it provides only the barest of safety nets afterwards. How does the reformed youth, for instance, get a job when they have a felony record?

Frontline has offered a penetrating look at four youths, one juvenile court system, and the general problem of juvenile justice. During the filming, California passed Proposition 21, legislation that would probably have altered each of these cases. The legislation has left judges with less room to consider special circumstances for violent offenders, and assures that many youths will be tried as adults. While this change may represent current social attitudes toward juvenile crimes, it is far from clear that this legislation will better aid the rehabilitation of young offenders. Juvenile Justice offers little hope for youths like Shawn, Jose, Marquese, and Manny in the future.

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

lyle moffitt on March 7th, 2008 at 1:11 pm 

my sociology students want to know what happened to the four males that participated in the film

Bobbie on November 11th, 2008 at 11:48 am 

Yes, I too would like to know what came of these four boys. I can’t find any follow-up information on them.

cara and ed on September 10th, 2009 at 12:14 pm 

every circumstance is different, but we think that the juveniles are getting screwed by the new laws that add time for guns and gang related offenses. We watched a film in class that showed a 16 year old who got 35 years for armed robbery. it is very sad.

Laura on February 3rd, 2010 at 9:13 pm 

Where can I find (purchase) a copy of this?

Tracy Phillips on February 10th, 2010 at 8:36 am 

Yes, me, too! I am an educator who would also love to use this film in my high school; can this film be purchased…?

Jeanne Flynn on March 18th, 2010 at 2:31 pm 

Would this be helpful? Judy

anthony on April 23rd, 2010 at 12:35 pm 

Wanted to see how can get a copy of documentary

Daija Graves on February 22nd, 2012 at 7:49 pm 

I was just watching a video about this case in my English class today. I’ve been trying to look things up on Shawn, but I couldn’t find anything. Knowing his last name can help a lot.

sadie on April 3rd, 2013 at 4:58 pm 

I am dying to know their last names because i really am trying to do some follow up on the boys even though it has been about 14 years since, i watched this in sociology and really want to prove to my teacher that times have changed and i may be able to find some sort of information on the boys and what has happened to them. thanks for reading this if you did, P L E A S E EMAIL ME BACK ON THIS!!

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