Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Tyrone and I am 23 years old. I am a youth leader with the Just Kids Campaign. I am here to testify today in support of SB 498.
I was arrested and automatically charged as an adult for armed robbery when I was 16 years old. I had never been arrested before. I had never even been to the principal’s office! I was on my way to the store with a friend when suddenly the police surrounded us with their guns out. They told me I was being charged with armed robbery. I didn’t rob anyone, so you can imagine how confused I was. I found out later that I “fit the description” of someone who did rob someone that night.
I was only a 10th grader at Diploma Plus High school who enjoyed playing football with my brothers and friends. I took care of my family because I was the oldest boy in the house. I enjoyed going fishing with my father and uncles. And now I was going into the adult criminal justice system.
When I first got to jail, they put me in a cell with adults twice my age. My cell buddy was 35 years old and accused of rape. I didn’t sleep at night for about two and a half months. After 6 months, I went to court and was told that I could have my case sent to the juvenile system if I pled to robbery. The prosecutor told me that if I didn’t take the plea, I would go to prison and I wouldn’t see my family again. I was devastated because my family depended on me. I didn’t do it, but I couldn’t go to prison, so I accepted the plea and was put on juvenile probation for two years.
After I got out, it felt like I had nothing and I was nothing. I had an adult charge on my record. I couldn’t get my adult record expunged until I got off of juvenile probation. So, when I tried to get back into my old school, they said my criminal background was too bad to go to a regular high school. Prior to getting arrested, I was working at Malley Packing Company for seven months. I tried to go back to work when I got home, but I was not allowed there and I couldn’t get a job anywhere.
My adult charge threw my family life into chaos. While I was in adult jail, my brother was killed. I missed getting to say my last words to my grandfather before he passed away. Because I was arrested, my own grandmother stopped talking to me because she didn’t want to have anything to do with the type of person who would go to an adult jail. We still don’t talk.
My juvenile probation officer suggested that I join the Youth Build program, where I learned construction skills. I enrolled myself in GED classes and also in Civic Works. My dream is to own my own construction company and to hire people with criminal records, because I know firsthand how hard it is to get a job with a criminal record. When I get my GED and complete my certification tests, I will be the fourth generation carpenter in my family.
I want this committee to understand that:
- While most of people think that youth charged as adults are the worst of the worst, they are not. In reality most youth’s cases don’t belong in the adult system to begin with. More often than not, their case dismissed or is transferred back to the juvenile system.
- The adult system is no place for a child. It doesn’t provide the services that juvenile system does. Kids who end up in the adult system are more likely to reoffend.
- Having an adult criminal record hinders youth’s ability to be productive in their lives.
For these reasons I urge the committee to support SB 498.