OPINION – As an African American judge, now retired, I bring the perspective of a member of the judiciary to the Steering Committee on the Reduction of African American Child Deaths (RAACD).
Working within a system that has been afflicted with bias against African Americans and other minorities, it has been my life’s work to attempt to ensure that the justice system serves all people equally. Since unnecessary and untimely deaths of children are an ultimate injustice, I am pleased to be a member of the RAACD.
Early in my career, I was privileged to serve with Supreme Court Justice Alan Broussard, attorney Johnnie Cochran, then Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas and a distinguished group of citizens on a statewide advisory committee on racial and ethnic bias in the courts. We found that substantial problems existed, such as uneven application of laws, biased prosecutions, and unfair jury selection practices. One major effect of bias in the courts was, and remains, the disruption of families and undue hardship for children in minority communities.
Third party homicide, among the key issues before RAACD, constitutes a significant factor in the disproportionate rate of deaths among African American children and is directly related to my role on the bench. Systemic poverty, the paucity of intact families, and lack of effective parental involvement in the development of children are contributing factors in death rates fueled by gangs and crime.
In my view, the justice system should do a better job in taking the best interests of children into account in discretionary sentencing practices. For example, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and his wife were both convicted of financial crimes in federal court, but were sentenced to serve terms in prison one after the other to enable effective childcare to continue. Similarly, our state justice system could do a much better job of finding alternatives to prison for many of minority inmates convicted for nonviolent crimes. A significant percentage of such offenders might contribute to the upbringing of their children as part of intact families.
I would like the community to take away from the strategic plan of the RAACD the understanding that investment in improving the conditions of youth will save a far greater monetary amount in necessary outlays in related areas.
Beyond the benefit of a lower crime rate and fewer victims in our community, cost savings will be achieved in law enforcement, remedial education, juvenile justice, parole and probation, and the costs of incarceration (at least $45,000 per person/per year). A holistic approach that will reward the county for expenditures that save costs to other agencies is essential.
I believe that the strategic plan of the RAACD will provide parents of children in challenged communities the knowledge necessary to optimize developmental outcomes for their children. The First Five Commission has taken the lead in providing information to help parents achieve success in child raising efforts. In addition, the strategic plan aspires to lead to job training for youth as well as avenues to decent jobs. If we are successful in engaging community youth in positive activities and in promoting hope among them for success in school and life, the third-party homicide rate is bound to shrink. It is a matter of faith in good works.
Every person who avoids prison and develops into an educated taxpayer becomes a part of the solution. Introducing hope and paths to success for youth in targeted communities promises the betterment of all our lives as well as the reduction of youth deaths at the hands of third parties in the community.
By Rudolph “Barry” Loncke
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rudolph “Barry” Loncke, Judge of the Sacramento Superior Court Retired, served as a Judge for the Sacramento Courts, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in February 1981. Judge Loncke served as a member of the Commission on the Enforcement of Child Abuse Laws under California State Attorney General John Van de Kamp (1984-85); on the Judicial Council’s Advisory Committee on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts (1991-93); and was the founder of “Access to Justice, the Role of Judges in our Community” (1988). He was the recipient of the “President’s Award” of the California Judges Association and serves as a member the Steering Committee on the Reduction of African American Child Deaths.