Burns Institute 2018 Annual Report: The Urgency of Change

A political climate in which racism is espoused from the nation’s highest office did not temper the W. Haywood Burns Institute’s (BI) work in 2018. With a galvanized internal structure, strengthened and growing partnerships and projects, and a new vision of structural well-being, BI continues to work to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities by growing a community-centered, equitable, and restorative justice model. Now more than ever, our work is necessary, impactful, and urgent.

Redefining Our Safety

As we approach almost 20 years of advocacy for a fair and equitable administration of justice, we have many challenges and opportunities before us. We live in a period of mass incarceration fueled by factors which – at first blush – seem too powerful to overcome. Using incarceration as a primary instrument of social control is backward- looking and fails to meet societal demands in a more connected, competitive and greener world. Crime and punishment in our country has resisted modern notions of dignity and humanity in the treatment of law violators. But change is coming from historically-silenced voices that are growing in number and strength. Communities of color, formerly incarcerated folks, LGTBQ communities, researchers, and policy advocates are challenging the status quo and looking to new approaches to achieve community safety. The Burns Institute has been a part of this movement since its inception. We have extended our work beyond reducing the harms of justice system involvement. We are now setting a vision for transformation. We are moving toward a new north star of accountability steeped in restoration, healing, interventions and well-being for people of color. We are deconstructing structural racism and redefining safety beyond the outdated ideas of custody, control and suppression. This task is not for the faint of heart, but we will continue to move forward fiercely in our efforts to have communities thrive and prosper.

Continue reading the full 2018 Annual Report here.

New Report: Addressing Racial, Ethnic, and Geographic Disparities after the Repeal of Direct File

A year ago this month, Californians voted overwhelmingly in support of Proposition 57, a ballot initiative that abolished the practice of “direct file,” wherein prosecutors could file charges against youth as young as 14 years old directly in adult criminal court. Now, all youth under the age of 18 must first receive a judicial transfer hearing in juvenile court to determine whether they can be prosecuted as an adult. Authors of a new report revealing racial and ethnic disparities associated with direct file say the data are a reminder of the need to remain vigilant to prevent these disparities from being reproduced under the state’s new process for transferring youth to adult criminal court.

The new report released today by the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI), the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), and the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) presents multi-year trends in direct file and judicial transfer hearings and offers recommendations for curbing historic racial, ethnic, and geographic disparities in the prosecution of youth as adults. The report finds:

  1. Reliance on transfer hearings and direct file varies substantially across California’s 58 counties: From 2010 to 2016, nine California counties had no reported cases of direct file or transfer to adult criminal court, while Kings, Yuba, San Joaquin, Sutter, and Madera counties reported rates that were more than three times the state average.
  2. Youth of color are far more likely than White youth to be prosecuted in adult court: For every White youth transferred to adult criminal court or direct filed between 2010 and 2016, 3.9 Latino youth and 12.3 Black youth were subject to adult court prosecution. With the repeal of direct file, disparities in the prosecution of youth as adults are likely to persist. From 2006 to 2016, 47 percent of White youth were transferred to adult court through a transfer hearing compared to 73 percent of Black youth and 75 percent of Latino youth.
  3. Racial and ethnic disparities in the prosecution of youth as adults vary considerably across counties: In nearly all counties that prosecuted youth as adults between 2010 and 2016, Black and Latino youth were direct filed or transferred to adult court at higher rates, per capita, than White youth, but the size of this disparity gap differs across counties. For example, Black youth in Alameda County were 65 times more likely, per capita, to be direct filed or transferred to adult court than White youth.

The passage of Proposition 57 brought an end to the inherently unjust practice of direct file, but the option to prosecute youth as adults remains. To combat continued disparities in the use of transfer hearings, the authors recommend training for judges, defenders, probation officers, and prosecutors; the development of comprehensive social histories that detail each youth’s life circumstances; improvements in county data collection; and expanded opportunities for family and community involvement. Though training and monitoring are necessary to ensure that transfer hearings are implemented lawfully, California must end the prosecution of youth as adults to uphold community safety and extend rehabilitative opportunities to all justice-involved youth.

Download the complete report here

Contact: For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview with the authors, please contact:

Haywood Burns Institute at lridolfi@burnsinstitute.org
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice at cjcjmedia@cjcj.org
National Center for Youth Law fguzman@youthlaw.org

Direct File Rates Arbitrarily Rising for Youth of Color

BI logo          CJCJ logo         NCYL logo


A new report examining the prosecution of youth as adults in California documents variations by county in the use of “direct file” and its disproportionate impact on youth of color.

Direct file refers to a decision, made solely at a prosecutor’s discretion, to charge a youth in adult, criminal court. The report, is released today by the Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice (CJCJ), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI) in coordination with yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling in a favor of a proposed ballot initiative (the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016) that would end the practice of direct file, and with tomorrow’s joint legislative hearing on the new measure.

Download Full Report

The report finds:

Prosecutors are increasingly using direct file despite plummeting youth crime: 80 percent of youth prosecuted in the adult system are placed there by a prosecutor. Despite a 55 percent drop in youth felony arrests, district attorneys report 23 percent more direct filings per capita in 2014 than in 2003. These opposing trends suggest that there is no clear relationship between serious crime and the use of direct file.

Racial and ethnic disparities have grown:  While the rate of direct file is decreasing for white youth, it has increased for Black and Latino youth. In 2003, Black youth were 4.5 times as likely as white youth to be directly filed, but by 2014 this figure rose to 11.3 times more likely.

Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Direct File Rates (2003-2014)
Racial & Ethnic Disparities in Direct File Rates 2003-2014

County level disparities lead to an inequitable system of “justice-by-geography”: For example, Yuba and San Diego counties report identical rates of youth arrest for serious offenses, but youth living in Yuba County are 34 times more likely to be directly filed than youth in San Diego County.

Youth who are subjected to the adult system experience psycho-emotional trauma stemming from the high-stakes criminal prosecution, and are more likely to recidivate. By eradicating direct file, Californians would reduce the high cost of unnecessary and harmful long-term incarceration of youth, particularly youth of color, while improving public safety and expanding opportunities for youth to engage in school, work, family and community.

Download Full Report

For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview with the authors, please contact:

Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice at (415) 621- 5661 x 121 or cjcjmedia@cjcj.org

National Center for Youth Law at (510) 835-8098 x 3055 or fguzman@youthlaw.org

W. Haywood Burns Institute at (415) 321-4100 x 108 or lridolfi@burnsinstitute.org

New BI Report Highlights Troubling Trends in Youth of Color Incarceration

Incarceration is not the solution, it is the problem.

This week, the Burns Institute joined communities, schools, youth programs and organizations across the nation in the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth to raise awareness of the dangers of the school-to-prison pipeline and the importance of ending the incarceration of all youth.

We are participating in the week of action by drawing attention to disturbing trends in the incarceration of youth of color with the release of our new report, Stemming the Rising Tide: Racial & Ethnic Disparities in Youth Incarceration and Strategies for Change.

The long-term consequences of youthful misbehavior for youth of color are numerous and oftentimes, extreme. Most young people are allowed to grow out of these behaviors without getting entangled in the justice system. Yet, youth of color are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, sentenced, and incarcerated for these behaviors than are their White peers.

While the overall rate of incarceration of all youth has decreased by 55% since 1997, the rate of incarceration of youth of color continues to rise, marking an alarming pattern.

Latino youth have been between one and a half and two times as likely as White youth to be committed to out-of-home placements. Moreover, data consistently indicate that Latino youth are undercounted, making it likely that the disparity is even more significant.

Our report shows trends in the incarceration of Native American youth that are particularly troubling: the disparity gap between Native American and White youth has risen in every offense category between 1997 and 2013.

No young person should never be removed from his or her home due to a technical violation (e.g. failure to appear, inability to pay restitution). Yet, on a one-day count in 2013, nearly 5,000 youth languished in out-of-home placements as the result of a technical violation. Sixty-seven percent of youth incarcerated for a technical violation were young people of color.

These national trends should be cause for great concern for advocates, youth justice system stakeholders, and communities.

In our report, we recommend several strategies that can resolve some of the roots of racial inequities in the administration of justice and allow youth of color a chance at restorative justice and greater well being.

Download a full copy of our report here.

Decriminalizing Childhood for Youth of Color: A Policy Framework

help kids don't jail them

The Burns Institute recently collaborated with the Urban America Forward: Civil Rights Roundtable Series to produce a thought piece on a new, transformative youth justice policy framework that would challenge the structural racial injustices that contribute to and perpetuate disparities in youth justice.

We joined a diverse group of civil rights leaders, scholars, activists, practitioners, representatives of philanthropy, and representatives of the private sector to share evidence-based and practice-proven policies that are working to dismantle inequality in urban America today.

You can download a copy of the BI’s policy framework towards the transformation of youth justice here.

Take a Look at our 2015 Success Highlights!

Digits of new year 2015 with small dartboard on white background

We’ve had an incredible year!

In 2015, the BI provided technical assistance, training, strategic thinking and support to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities within youth justice systems in 104 counties and 38 states across the country.

Over the past year, we’ve engaged in partnerships that have led to important victories benefiting youth of color. And we’ve grown our internal capacity to meet the needs of even more local communities that want to work towards greater equity and accountability within their justice systems.

You can check out our 2015 annual highlights to learn more about the significant impacts we’ve achieved with our partners in this year.

As the national conversation on justice continues to advance, the BI is even more committed than ever to our innovative and valuable work to make the lives of youth of color matter in our democracy in the next year and beyond.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to the BI this holiday season, please click here to donate now!

See you in 2016! 🙂

Burns Institute Annual Highlights 2015_FINAL copy

Call to Action: Congress MUST Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act


To close out Youth Justice Awareness Month, the W. Haywood Burns Institute calls on Congress to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA).

We join other youth advocacy organizations in recognizing the foundational importance of the JJDPA at a time when repairing and rebuilding our broken justice systems is increasingly part of the public consciousness, and the disparate and negative impact on youth of color is increasingly part of the public discourse.

To take action and call for the reauthorization of JJDPA, click here to visit the Act 4 JJ website and contact your member of Congress.

While great strides have been made since JJDPA was passed in 1974, the work to reform our youth justice system is far from over, and the JJDPA is more relevant than ever. There is currently bipartisan recognition that the needs of our most vulnerable youth cannot be met by our current system, and in fact that unnecessary involvement with the youth justice system harms kids more than it helps. The JJDPA has enabled important reform through its oversight and funding of state systems. It has helped to protect youth from being incarcerated with adults and has pushed local jurisdictions to begin addressing racial and ethnic disparities.

Unfortunately, racial and ethnic disparities, which were inherent in the very creation of the youth justice system, are still disturbingly pronounced. In 2013, near 55,000 youth were incarcerated on any given night, most for nonviolent offenses. The vast majority were youth of color.

The current problems and inadequacies within the youth justice system become all the more obvious when we understand how the system was initially created and who the system was created for. Recently the W. Haywood Burns Institute released, “Repairing the Breach,” a report highlighting the birth and evolution of the youth justice system with respect to youth of color. This report illuminates parts of our youth justice system, which for decades have been conveniently glossed over if not entirely forgotten by history.

Understanding the historical precedent for today’s racial and ethnic disparities in our youth justice system underscores the importance of the reauthorization of the JJDPA. There remains an acute need for a focused and united effort to ensure equity and dignity for youth in the justice system. The JJDPA provides the foundation for such efforts.

Contact your member of Congress TODAY to call for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act!

Interactive Timeline: A Brief History of Youth of Color in the Justice System

From the clash between Puritan family values with Native American tribes and the treatment of youth of color as property, to the execution of a 14-year old African American boy and the case of the Central Park Five, our history of how we’ve policed the bodies of youth of color and labeled their minds as feeble is echoed in our current national conversation around criminal justice and race.

To learn more about this important history, take a look at this interactive timeline we’ve put together from our recently released essay, “Repairing the Breach: A Brief History of Youth of Color in the Justice System.”

To download a copy of the full essay, “Repairing the Breach: A Brief History of Youth of Color in the Justice System,” click here.