KVI Tough Questions: when do juvenile criminals deserve a 2nd chance?

No New Youth Jail construction protest sign KOMOjail.jpg
KVI's John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur interview the King County juvenile division prosecutor, Jimmy Hung, about the county's restorative justice program that can allow some juvenile offenders to avoid prosecution and incarceration if they complete a 'peace circle' program to the satisfaction of prosecutors. A "Stop Caging Kids" banner is hoisted in Seattle as protesters with the group No New Youth Jail attempt to block construction in March of 2018. (photo: KOMO News)

"A lot of times when you put kids through the criminal justice system, they come out worse", says the chief prosecutor of King County's juvenile division, Jimmy Hung.

Juvenile criminals in Seattle and King County may avoid incarceration under a restorative justice program aimed at preventing a minor from being saddled with a criminal record before they turn 18. A similar program in Broward County, Florida involving the now 19-year-old confessed high school mass murderer, Nikolas Cruz, precluded Cruz's adjudication that could have made him ineligible (and denied) from buying the rifle that he used to murder 17 classmates and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.

KVI's John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur interview King County chief juvenile division prosecutor, Jimmy Hung, about the local restorative justice program and the case of 16-year-old Diego Carballo-Oliveros who was in the midst of the restorative justice program for a prior offense when he allegedly stabbed to death a 15-year-old.

In defending the restorative justice option for juvenile offenders, Hung says, "We see it every day. Kids come in to the system and they don't understand the consequences that they're facing. And we can sit here and charge them with crimes and tell them they're going to have criminal history and lock them up but (to) a lot of these kids, that doesn't matter to them. You know, they're coming from horrors in their community that make the criminal justice system pale in comparison."

Wilbur pointed out that in Carballo-Oliveros's case he hadn't completed the King County 'peace circle' process to avoid possible incarceration.

Wilbur stated, "I don't think one individual case should necessarily condemn an entire process (restorative justice)...but if you have 25 kids who have gone 'straight' now through this process and turned their backs on a criminal life and turned out to be productive members of society that's an important gain. But I don't know how many kids have gone through it , how many success stories we have. I know that one failure (murder case) costs a lot. There's one less life on this planet because this kid apparently gamed the system. Everyone thought he (Carballo-Oliveros) was doing okay. He went through the process. He apologized. He went through the (peace) circles. He exposed his soul to all of you and said he was sorry, looked at the victims. All the time while he's plotting and committing a violent crime on the outside."

Hung confided that fifteen juvenile offenders have been offered the restorative justice process with the peace circles so far. "I would say, ya know, Diego's case was the one that really ended in a bad outcome but the vast majority of the rest of them have been incredibly positive", Hung concluded.

"So far. So far", Wilbur answered.

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