The ACLU of Southern California today joined with a coalition of youth, education and law enforcement organizations to announce formally its opposition to Proposition 21, known as the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act. The measure, which will be on the March 2000 ballot would, if passed, dramatically alter California's justice system, forcing countless teenagers into the adult court system.

'Three words describe this initiative: mean-spirited, unnecessary and ineffective,' said ACLU Executive Director Ramona Ripston at a press conference held on the steps of the Juvenile Court in Los Angeles. 'It is mean-spirited to lock up juveniles in adult facilities, with hardened criminals, without the special care and help that teenagers so desperately need. It is unnecessary to pass an initiative based on an ungrounded fear of rising crime. It is ineffective to give up on kids just at the age when they can most easily turn their lives around.'

'What possible good can come from placing impressionable teens in training camps for a life of crime?' continued Ripston. 'And that's just what will happen: in Florida, which passed similar legislation in 1981, juveniles tried as adults are twice as likely to commit new crimes after their release as those handled in the juvenile system.'

The 43 page ballot measure eliminates the current emphasis on rehabilitation; reduces judicial discretion, and according to the California Legislative Analyst Office, will cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Among those joining the ACLU in opposition to Proposition 21: Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa; Senator Dede Alpert; Father Gregory Boyle; Revered James Lawson; the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the Los Angeles City Council.