Juvenile Justice Juvenile Justice: Healing Not Punishment Juvenile Probation

Probation Chiefs’ Association Hopes to Raise the Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction in CA

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Next year, the organization known as the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) has big plans to work with CA lawmakers to raise the maximum age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to include 18- and 19-year-olds.

Raising the age through the “Elevate Justice Act” will allow older teens to access “age-appropriate intensive rehabilitation services,” says the CPOC, which represents the state’s 58 county probation chiefs.

The probation chiefs have a past record for energetically blocking reform at times, causing some in the juvenile justice world to worry that the proposal is a ploy to refill empty probation camps and halls to improve job security for county probation staff.

The probation leaders point out that they have based their proposal on the growing body of research regarding the needs of young adults and their contact with the justice system, as well as brain science, which says that young people’s brains do not stop developing until a person reaches their mid-20s.

Under the proposed new law, CA’s 18- and 19-year-olds would gain the right to have their records sealed as juveniles, which would give them a far greater chance of securing housing, employment, and services upon their return to the community.

CPOC also proposes extending the age through which young adults can remain under local juvenile probation supervision from the current age of 21 to 24 years old. Additionally, the group would like to cap the length of juvenile probation supervision at one year of a youth’s demonstrated ability to live successfully in the community. The proposal would also trim the long list of probation violations for which kids can face incarceration and other consequences. Non-serious acts like missing curfew would no longer put youth at risk of having their probation revoked.

Under the probation chiefs’ plan, youths would receive individualized treatment and rehabilitation plans focused on helping them into adulthood free of probation supervision or lockup.

The proposed legislation, according to CPOC President (and San Joaquin County Probation Chief) Stephanie James, “holistically and individually focuses on juveniles and emerging adults incorporating proven and comprehensive rehabilitation and restorative justice approaches that will help reduce recidivism, elevate community safety and support youth.”

While the group seeks to increase the number of youth who are eligible to remain in the juvenile justice system, it also intends to “further limit detention by requiring the use of a risk-based intake assessment.”

So far, Vermont is the only state to extend juvenile court jurisdiction to reach teens older than 18.

Officials in Massachusetts, including several local district attorneys, have been pushing to raise the maximum age at which youths can be charged in juvenile court to 21.

“The record shows that young people treated in the juvenile justice system fare better and the community becomes safer,” says Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins. “By pushing these young people, who research tells us are still developing, into the adult justice system, we are willfully ignoring decades of data and developmental science and failing to protect the health and safety of communities as public servants are sworn to do.”

Keeping 18- and 19-year-olds in the juvenile system means that they will have access to the programs and services specifically tailored to teenagers, rather than being thrust into a more dangerous and less rehabilitation-focused environment full of older adults.

Vincent Schiraldi, a former probation chief for both New York City and Washington DC, now a nationally regarded criminal justice reform expert and a member of the task force working to raise the age in MA, agrees that while the overarching goal should be to reduce youth incarceration, raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction is a worthy goal to bring into reality.

“While no system is perfect, judges, prosecutors, and defenders in juvenile court are specially trained and have a broader range of options to rehabilitate young people,” Schiraldi said in a 2018 op-ed for the Boston Herald.

In the case of the CPOC’s proposal, Schiraldi told KQED that he understands why some of the justice advocates are worried, but he praised the proposal for many of its elements like capping the amount of time youth could spend on probation.

Berkshire County DA Andrea Harrington, who partnered with DA Rollins and Franklin/Hampshire County DA David Sullivan to urge MA lawmakers to raise the age, had similar thoughts. “If the intention of our criminal justice system is rehabilitation,” said Harrington, “the juvenile justice system provides a better pathway forward by looking at youth more holistically in the context of their family, school and community.”

With the Elevate Justice Act, CA’s probation chiefs are similarly pushing to keep older teens in more appropriate settings that juvenile probation camps and halls offer.

(This is not to say that juvenile lockups are always therapeutic, holistic, or even safe, but they are regarded as better for teens than adult lockups, although for youth advocates the goal is to institute strategies to keep most youth out of lock-up altogether, through diversion, and youth development.)

A new research arm of the Cal probation chiefs’ group intends to dig into the statistics of juvenile justice and adult supervision to improve the state’s probation systems and thus, outcomes for those who come into contact with the probation departments.

The California Probation Resource Institute, which was announced this summer, is the state’s first research institute to be focused solely on filling major data gaps by analyzing probation practices and reforms by partnering with CA academics.

One of CPRI’s first reports, to be completed in early 2020, will look at how changes to state law have impacted probation departments’ “responsibilities and obligations to serve youth in the areas of prevention, intervention, detention, and supervision in the juvenile justice system.”

Over the last 20 years, youth violence dropped precipitously (and unexpectedly) in California.

Many of California’s once brimming juvenile probation camps — filled by the “superpredator” myth of the 1990s — now sit empty, or at least far below capacity. (Nowhere in California has the population of locked-up youth dropped more precipitously than in Los Angeles County.)

In 39 of the 43 counties that have juvenile lockups, the facilities are not even half full, according to an SF Chronicle investigative series called “Vanishing Violence,” which looks at how ever-soaring costs of locking kids up at the county level (as much as $500,000 annually for each kid) have not reflected the state’s plummeting juvenile incarceration rates.

Generally, the problem is that local probation budgets and juvenile corrections staff numbers have not been reduced as fewer kids are funneled into juvenile halls and camps. This, according to some advocates, is likely an underhanded reason for CPOC’s push to keep young adults in the juvenile system: more bodies in juvenile camps and halls currently at risk of closure.

“My fear,” Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, told KQED, “is if they start opening up these halls and increasing the age limits, does that just mean we are going to have kids serving longer times in juvenile halls — or people who in the past may not have been placed in any custody will now be?”

Earlier this year, San Francisco officials voted to permanently shutter SF’s only juvenile lockup, in which fewer than 50 kids are held on an average day, in 2021. In SF, the annual cost of detaining each youth has nearly doubled from $135,000 to $266,000 in 2018.

In a statement, CPOC President Stephanie James praised the SF Board of Supervisors’ intent to replace youth incarceration with community-based interventions and programs, but argued against the supes’ decision to implement hard deadlines for the juvenile hall’s closure before fully developing a “deliberative, holistic and research-based plan … to address the needs of the youth and the community.”

6 Comments

  • No, just no. These innocent little juveniles who rape, rob, and murder are old enough to be charged as adults. Now, they want to lower the penalties for these little miscreants by allowing men old enough to serve in the military (18 & 19) to be treated like little kids? Again, no.

  • Does of Reality, are these “men old enough to serve in the military” or are we letting kids serve in the military? I suggest its the latter. If it was your little Cody or Dylan who was caught shoplifting you would be pleading with the DA or judge that it was a stupid mistake and that little Dylan was just a kid. In fact, it was your little Cody or Dylan you may not even have to plead with them. You have a shitload of Sheriff’s officers we know have perjured themselves and we can’t even get the list and you say nothing. Hypocrite.

  • So, a “child” can be considered mature enough to change their gender, but hardened adult criminals ages 18-19 will be considered as children.
    Makes perfect sense in this backwards wrong-is-right failed state.
    Having worked juvenile court for a few years, the “obey all laws and all orders of the court” as a condition of release/probation should be just that. None of this “well, it was just curfew…” The idea of probation is the criminal (that is what they are) must hold themselves to a higher standard to prove themselves worthy of remaining in society. That is the point. To ignore some violations is nullifying the entire concept of consequences for one’s own actions.
    I remember many juvies being remanded for simple curfew violations. When taken into the context that those curfew violations were law-enforcement generated contacts, the fact they were even documented is telling of a bigger story. I used to get joy out of seeing parents lie to the court about how their child was an angel under supervised release then the court would read all the police contacts and school absences. Seeing the parent remanded to custody along with their “little angel” made an impact on how serious they should take the attempts by the court and probation to correct their errant behavior.

  • California Youth Authority is gone, and all County Juvenile halls. We’ve lost the battle of public service, public safety..The “California Youth Community Restoration” is the new placement for all innocent kids in 2020. All the kids who committed serious crimes, can have therapeutic community within each DYCR Center, no longer a Correctional facilities. But in the end, don’t look at us when little Dylan or Charlie shoots up the neighborhood, rapes your daughters, and more serious crimes. Thanks Hug a Thug California. Gov. Newsom thanks, CJCJ thanks…..it’s over folks 2020 is here welcome….DYCR, it’s not a closure of facilities, it’s a downfall.

  • California will soon be a totally failed state. Sad to see “The Great State” continuing to downward spiral into a poorly ran and chaotic dystopian fools paradise.

    It appears the new political game of one upsmanship in town is let’s see who can propose the most outrageous, pseudo-progressive (regressive) and thoughtless legislative policies and “impose them” on the ignorant populace.

    California = example of why a “healthy” two party system is really needed

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