Home News Center California Advocates Help Pass a Rush of Reform Bills

California Advocates Help Pass a Rush of Reform Bills

October 31, 2016
Benjamin Chambers

juvenile-justice-reform_CaliforniaNJJN members in California had a lot to be proud of this year, as their advocacy contributed to the passage of a number of bills reforming the youth justice system. Member organizations involved in fighting for them included the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice (CAYCJ), and the Youth Justice Coalition, along with alumni of NJJN’s Youth Justice Leadership Institute. 

“We are very excited about the tremendous progress being made in juvenile justice reform in California," said David Muhammad, co-director of CAYCJ. "We still have much work to do, but the series of bills passed this year and in the past few years show that the California legislature is following the will of the people to pass smart, sound, juvenile justice reforms."

Here’s a quick rundown:

  • SB 1143 (solitary confinement) - According to the Youth Justice Coalition, the bill will ensure that youth who are locked up in county juvenile halls, probation camps and ranches, or state youth prisons are no longer subject to the “overuse, misuse and long-term use of locked room confinement, including isolation from human contact and programming.” See the infographic here compiled by youth who have experienced solitary confinement. The bill was signed into law Sept. 27 by Governor Brown.
  • AB 1998 (data collection) – According to an Oct. 3 article in Youth Today, California advocates and system stakeholders “can’t track probation violations, institutional placements, probation length, adult court disposition, recidivism or long-term health and wellness outcomes for any youth.” In addition, the lack of accurate ethnicity data means that it’s impossible to accurately assess the number of Latino youth in the system, or assess their outcomes. The bill updates reporting standards for state juvenile justice grants and requires the state Board of State and Community Corrections to develop recommendations on how to disaggregate juvenile justice caseload, performance, and outcome data by race and ethnicity – though these guidelines will be optional and nonenforceable for counties.
  • AB 1843 (confidentiality and employment background checks) – According to the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice, the bill, signed into law on Sept. 27, 2016, “prohibits prospective employers from learning about a youth’s juvenile record – anything related to arrest, detention, processing, diversion, supervision, adjudication, or court disposition. Prior law only shielded adult records that met certain criteria from employer background checks. For more info on the new law, see this fact sheet.
  • AB 2298 (gang databases) - According to the Youth Justice Coalition, AB 2298 (1) ensures that people of all ages have the right to be notified if they are added to a shared gang database, and to challenge the designation; and (2) requires the state to release data every year covering the numbers and demographics of people added or removed from shared gang databases. The bill is meant to address the lack of transparency of gang databases (prior to the legislation, individuals could not learn whether they were listed, or challenge their status); the egregious racial and ethnic disparities among those listed in such databases; their inaccuracies; their overly-broad definition of gang membership; and their lack of compliance with state and federal regulations. A recent audit found that over 600 people who should have been removed from the database had not been – and many who were scheduled for removal from the database  were not scheduled for removal for 100 or more years from now. The bill was signed by Governor Brown Sept. 28.

Despite the progress, there’s more work to be done: two other promising bills were passed by the legislature but vetoed by the governor, including AB 2005, which would have placed limits on the circumstances under which judges could commit youth to out-of-home placements outside of the state; and SB 1052, championed by the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which would have required that youth under 18 years old could not waive their Miranda rights when being interrogated in custody without first consulting with legal counsel. The state Senate is reviewing the veto of SB 1052. 

"We are deeply disappointed that Governor Brown chose to veto SB 1052," said Bikila Ochoa, of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. "In order for Miranda rights to have meaning for young people, it is critical that they understand these rights and the implications of waiving them, and counsel is necessary to provide this understanding. We look forward to working with other community-based organizations to encourage Governor Brown to sign SB 1052 into law in 2017."  

In addition, advocates are also doing considerable work to support a state ballot initiative, Proposition 57. "We look forward to the voters of California passing Proposition 57 this November," said David Muhammad of CAYCJ, "which will result in far fewer children being charged as adults and sent to adult prison.” 

Photo: Flickr User Jordan Cameron -- model used for illustrative purposes only.  

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