Unlocking Opportunity: New Burns Institute Report Highlights Disparities in California’s Youth Justice System

Every night in California, nearly 4,000 youth lay their heads to sleep out of their homes, out of their community and away from their families as the result of a court ordered placement. Youth of color comprise the vast majority of these youth (88 percent). In fact, at every decision-making point in the youth justice system in California, youth of color bear the brunt of more restrictive options.


Data reported to California’s Department of Justice and to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention indicate that most youth who are placed out of home do not pose a public safety threat.

Equally important, a vast body of research reveals that youth who spend time in institutional placements experience diminished life outcomes. Institutional placement can impede positive adolescent development, relationships with family and peers, educational outcomes, and future economic mobility.

Over the past decade, Californians’ reliance on the youth justice system has declined. The number of arrests, referrals to probation, youth adjudicated delinquent, and youth who are sent to institutional placements have all decreased. Despite a significant decline in placements to Division of Juvenile Justice facilities since the passage of “juvenile justice realignment” (Senate Bill 81) in 2007, reductions in institutional placements have not kept pace with reductions in arrests and referrals to probation.

A new report from the W. Haywood Burns Institute, “Unlocking Opportunity: How Race, Ethnicity, and Place Affect the Use of Institutional Placements in California” presents an analysis of available state and county level data about the use of out of home placement in the state. While the overall likelihood of out of home placement is dependent upon location, youth of color are more likely than White youth to be sent out of home in 41 of California’s 58 counties.

These data, as well as what we know about the negative impacts of institutional placement, are a call to action. Decision makers must curtail their use of institutional placement and invest in community-based, culturally relevant supports that promote well-being for youth who are most impacted.

Download the complete report here 

For more information, please contact:

Laura Ridolfi at lridolfi@burnsinstitute.org

Anna Wong at awong@burnsinstitute.org

Press Release: California Takes the Lead in Juvenile Justice Reform — Ends The Harmful, Unlawful, and Costly Practice of Charging Fees to Families with Youth in the System

SACRAMENTO—On October 11, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 190, a major, bipartisan juvenile justice reform bill that will improve youth rehabilitation and increase public safety. Effective January 1, 2018, SB 190 ends the regressive and racially discriminatory practice of charging administrative fees to families with youth in the juvenile system. More specifically, SB 190 repeals county authority to charge administrative fees to parents and guardians for their children’s detention, legal representation, probation supervision, electronic monitoring, and drug testing in the juvenile system. At least 51 of California’s 58 counties currently charge one or more of these fees. The bill was co-authored by California Senators Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara and co-sponsored by a dozen community groups working to reduce the negative impact of juvenile system involvement.

According to Stephanie Campos-Bui, co-author of a University of California Berkeley study about the issue in California, “After years of researching this issue from every angle, we found that juvenile fees were a regressive tax on vulnerable families who can least afford to pay them. They’re often imposed unlawfully and they’re costly to counties and society. We applaud the Governor and the Legislature for taking this action to improve youth rehabilitation and enhance public safety.”

Laura John Ridolfi, Policy Director at the W. Haywood Burns Institute notes the racially discriminatory nature of juvenile fees: “Due to the significant racial and ethnic disparities that exist at each stage of the justice system, youth and families of color are saddled with the greatest burden of administrative fees. The passage of SB 190 is a victory for promoting equity in the administration of justice and reducing the negative impact justice system involvement has on youth of color in California.”

As Lewis Brown, Jr. of PolicyLink, which earlier this year released a brief about the debt trap of court-imposed fines and fees, notes: “Juvenile fees deepen financial insecurity in poor families of color, by draining the limited financial resources they have to spend on critical needs like housing and transportation. The passage of Senate Bill 190 represents an important first step toward eliminating these destabilizing and counterproductive fees across the country.”

California is the first state to eliminate all juvenile administrative fees, but advocacy organizations nationally are starting to address this important issue. “Today, California stands as a national model and demonstrates a commitment to what works for justice-involved youth: supporting families and reducing barriers to success,” says Maureen Washburn with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Proposition 57 Draft Regulations Would Exclude Thousands From the Promise of Rehabilitation

Last November, nearly two-thirds of California voters said yes to Proposition 57, a ballot measure which supported increasing parole eligibility and good behavior opportunities for people convicted of nonviolent crimes and allowing judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to direct file youth to adult court. Despite this support for a justice system that is centered on rehabilitation and opportunity, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has released draft regulations for how to administer Proposition 57’s changes – regulations which unfortunately do not reflect the intent of many voters.

Under the CDCR’s proposed regulations, credits awarded for completing self-help and rehabilitative programs would not be awarded retroactively, and those convicted to life under California’s Three Strikes Law, as well as those convicted to life without parole while under 18, would not be eligible for early parole. These regulations would deny the opportunity of rehabilitation and early release to thousands of incarcerated Californians, many of whom have already served enough time in prison and who have worked hard to get the tools they need to be successful when released.

The people of California passed Proposition 57 with the intent of providing hope and a path forward. Let’s ensure that this promise is extended to as many people as possible.

The CDCR is accepting public comments on these regulations until September 1st, 2017.

If you would like to provide comments for the proposed Proposition 57 regulations, visit http://www.secondchancesca.org

For those in the Sacramento area, a public hearing will be held on September 1st, 2017 from 9AM-12PM at the Department of Water Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, where you can voice your comments in person.

JJDPA Passes House and Senate, but Still Long Road to Go

On August 1st the Senate approved S860, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Reauthorization Act of 2017, which strengthens and updates the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 2002.

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) was first signed into law on September 7, 1974; it was last reauthorized in 2002 and is now nearly a decade overdue for reauthorization. The law remains the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of children in the youth justice system and provides direction and support for state youth justice system improvements.

One of the core requirements of the JJDPA is to “address” the disproportionate contact that youth of color have with the justice system.  The current language of the JJDPA is over-vague and leaves state and local officials without clear guidance for reducing racial and ethnic disparities.  S860 provides clear direction to States and localities to plan and implement a data-driven approach to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and to set measurable objectives for policy change.

On May 24th the House of Representatives passed a similar bill, HR1809, “The Juvenile Justice and Reform Act of 2017.” The House and Senate will now have to come to an agreement on the provisions found in the two bills before it can be signed into law. The bills aim to strengthen existing law to reflect new research and fund programs that help youth stay out of and successfully exit the youth justice system and to encourage states to use interventions that have a proven impact on reducing recidivism as an alternative to incarceration.

James Bell, President of the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI) stated, “This marks the beginning of a legislative process that hopefully improves the administration of justice for young people.  The two bills afford Congress the opportunity to provide basic guidelines to youth justice practitioners for interventions and services that are age-appropriate and equitable.”

While the current Senate and House bills are similar they contain some differing language. When originally enacted in 1974, the JJDPA required states to stop incarcerating children for status offenses, laws concerning behaviors such as running away from home or skipping school that only apply to children. In 1984 an exception to this rule was added which permits states to securely detain youth when these behaviors are in violation of a valid court order. The House bill has removed this exception. A similar statement was removed from the Senate bill following an objection from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

BI strongly supports the reauthorization of the JJDPA as an essential step forward in promoting equity and improving public safety in communities across the country.

Report Update: Direct File Rates Arbitrarily Rising for Youth of Color

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A new report presents 2015 trends in California’s use of “direct file,” wherein prosecutors are granted sole discretion to file charges against youth as young as 14 years old directly in adult criminal court. The report finds stark differences by county in the use of direct file and documents its continued disproportionate impact on youth of color. The report, published today by the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI), the Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice (CJCJ), and the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) is released in advance of Election Day when California voters will consider the repeal of direct file through the passage of Proposition 57. The report finds:

Rates of direct file increased in 2015 despite falling rates of arrest for serious felony offenses: Despite a 17 percent drop in serious felony arrests of youth from 2014 to 2015, counties reported a per capita increase in the use of direct file. These opposing trends suggest that there is no clear relationship between serious youth crime and the use of direct file.

Download a copy of the report.


The statewide rate of direct file increased from 2014 to 2015 despite a decline in serious felony arrests


County level disparities lead to an inequitable system of “justice-by-geography”: In 2015, just six counties – Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, and Tulare – comprised more than 50 percent of the state’s 492 direct file cases, while 20 counties did not direct file any youth.

Racial and ethnic disparities persist: Per capita, Latino youth were 3.4 times more likely to be direct filed than White youth in 2015, and Black youth were direct filed at 10.8 times the rate of White youth. Six counties directly filed charges against Black youth, but no White youth, while 11 counties direct filed Latino youth and no White youth.  Even when adjusting for the disproportionate rates at which youth of color are arrested for serious felonies, Black and Latino youth are still more likely to be direct filed than their White counterparts.

Youth who are subjected to the adult justice system experience psycho-emotional trauma stemming from the high-stakes criminal prosecution, and are more likely to recidivate. By eliminating direct file through Proposition 57, Californians have the opportunity to change this. According to the authors, repealing direct file would reduce unnecessary, harmful, and costly youth incarceration, particularly for youth of color, while improving public safety and expanding opportunities for engagement in school, work, family and community.

Download a copy of the report.

The BI Urges Federal Government to Strengthen Requirements for Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities

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Today, the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI) and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy (CCLP) submitted recommendations to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) aimed at strengthening the agency’s approach to reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the youth justice system. The BI and CCLP prepared the joint recommendations in response to OJJDP’s call for public comment on proposed revisions to regulations for the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). OJJDP published the proposed regulations on August 8, 2016 and is accepting public comments until October 7.

The JJDPA, the most important federal statute affecting the youth justice system, provides funding to states in exchange for compliance with certain requirements. One of the JJDPA’s core requirements is that states must develop plans to “study” and “address” racial and ethnic disparities within the juvenile justice system.

However, the requirement has had limited impact. “The federal requirement is vague, and progress in the states has been uneven. OJJDP needs to develop a dynamic vision for change in this area and provide states and local communities with more effective guidance, training, and assistance,” said Mark Soler, CCLP’s Executive Director. “These regulations can be an important vehicle for reform.”

The JJDPA has not been reauthorized by Congress since 2002, and the regulations have not been updated since 1996. Staff at the CCLP and BI are urging OJJDP to act now to refine the regulations to reflect best practices and strategies that have led to measurable improvements for youth of color.

“With guidance and intentionality, reducing racial and ethnic disparities is possible,” said James Bell, BI’s Executive Director. “Reductions in racial and ethnic disparities require three things: intentional and willful focus from local governments; a clear process of using data to drive policy change; and authentic engagement of communities of color that have been most harmed by the justice system.”

You can view the joint recommendations from the BI and CCLP by following this link. For questions about the recommendations, please contact Laura John Ridolfi, BI Policy Director, at 415-321-4100 x108 or lridolfi@burnsinstitute.org, or  Tiana Davis, CCLP’s Policy Director for Equity and Justice at 202-637-0377 x103 or tdavis@cclp.org.