Synopsis by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
Juvenile Justice follows the cases of four young men -- Shawn, José, Marquese, and Manny -- as they travel through the Santa Clara, CA, court system over the period of a year. Their crimes range from theft to rape to a gang-related beating death. Prosecutors, in each case, fight to have the juveniles tried in an adult court where the sentences will be lengthier. The lenient juvenile system, they contend, quickly returns violent offenders back to the street. Defense attorneys point out, however, that many of these men come from dysfunctional backgrounds. Three of the defendants come from homes with substance abuse problems; one often lived on the street; another found his only sense of belonging in a gang. They also argue that the juvenile system offers the only chance of reform. During the filming of Juvenile Justice, California passed Proposition 21, limiting a judge's ability to consider special circumstances in cases involving violent juvenile defenders. Juvenile Justice includes interviews with court officials, family members, and defendants.