A California Court for Young Adults Calls on Science

The New York Times – On a cloudy afternoon in the Bayview district, Shaquille, 21, was riding in his sister’s 1991 Acura when another car ran a stop sign, narrowly missing them.

Both cars screeched to a halt, and Shaquille and the other driver got out. “I just wanted to talk,” he recalls.

But the talk became an argument, and the argument ended when Shaquille sent the other driver to the pavement with a left hook. Later that day, he was arrested and charged with felony assault.

He already had a misdemeanor assault conviction — for a fight in a laundromat when he was 19. This time he might land in prison.

Instead, Shaquille — who spoke on condition that his full name not be used, lest his record jeopardize his chances of finding a job — wound up in San Francisco’s Young Adult Court, which offered him an alternative.

For about a year, he would go to the court weekly to check in with Judge Bruce E. Chan. Court administrators would coordinate employment, housing and education support for him. He would attend weekly therapy sessions and life-skills classes.

In return, he would avoid trial and, on successful completion of the program, the felony charge would be reduced to a misdemeanor. This was important, because a felony record would make it nearly impossible for him to get a job.

Surprisingly, this alternative legal philosophy springs not from concerns about overcrowded prisons or overburdened courts, but from neuroscience.

Read more at The New York Times.