Blog: California

What Realignment of CA's Juvenile System Could Mean for Families

Last month, California's Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO), joined the growing momentum for Governor Brown's juvenile realignment proposal with a report explaining the potential financial incentives. While advocates and pollicy groups continue to call for realignment and the de-incarceration of the juvenile system, it's important to take a step back and hear from the families with children in the system. 

In an interview with Turnstyle News, Sumayyah Waheed, director of the Ella Baker Center's Books Not Bars campaign, explains why the current system is making it difficult for families to stay connected with their kids, which in turn makes it more difficult for the kids to rehabilitate:

What happens to adults with juvenile records?

Adolescence is a challenging time for most people. Teenagers undergo significant developmental, physical, psychological, and social changes during a condensed decade of time. We have all done embarrassing things as adolescents; however, we are comforted by our coming of age and the slow regression of those memories. According to a recent study, while 1 in 3 Americans have some contact with the juvenile justice system – most are cited for infractions. Youth who commit crime are in the minority (never more so than now), and even then, the infrequent contact they have is typically for a low-level misdemeanor (such as petty theft or vandalism) that often results in a community-based remedy and the dissolution of their delinquent record upon reaching adulthood.

But what of the teenagers who embark on more serious delinquent careers? An October 2011 blog by the Criminal Justice Degrees Guide, catalogues 8 different celebrities with juvenile records who have a successful and illustrious adult life. These celebrities include among others: Mark Wahlberg, Allen Iverson, Danny Trejo, all of whom where arrested for serious violent offenses as youth. In addition, both Merle Haggard and Danny Trejo served time as adolescents in California’s notorious Youth Authority (the state’s institutional system for juvenile offenders).

While most juvenile offenders do not continue on to an adult life of crime, including even the most serious offenders (as above), there can still be real-life consequences for adults with juvenile records. In California, for example, a juvenile court record is not automatically sealed upon reaching age 18. In fact, to have your juvenile court records sealed you must affirmatively file a petition with the juvenile court in the county where the conviction occurred. But not all juvenile records are sealable. Since the passage of Proposition 21 (2000), certain serious juvenile offenses committed by a 14-year-old or older are barred from sealing.

Does more "youth on the streets" mean more crime?

With a growing youth and immigrant population, one could expect an increase in local crime rates. However, this is often not true. In this short video, CJCJ senior research fellow Mike Males explains why California's crime rate is going down (even with increasing diversity and a large youth population) and why he is optimistic for the future of the golden state's juvenile justice system.

In a recently release policy brief, Dr. Males goes into more detail on the actual numbers of incarcerated youth in California: 

The De-Incarceration of California’s Juvenile Justice System

The juvenile justice system in California has been evolving faster than most other parts of the country. While Missouri, Texas and other states have reduced their youth prison populations, California has made the most drastic reductions. At its peak in 1996, California housed more than 10,000 adolescents in its youth prisons. Today there are 1,096 youth held in just four facilities with one of those scheduled to close in a little more than a month.
The idea of de-incarceration is not new. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the closure of Massachusetts’ youth training schools. Dr. Jerome G. Miller, then commissioner of youth corrections in Massachusetts implemented sweeping reforms, transferring more than 1,500 adolescents out of youth prison and into community-based alternatives. Subsequent research revealed that when youth are not subject to the harsh conditions of institutional prison environments, they are less prone to serious and violent behavior upon release. We’ve known since the late 1970s, then, that well- implemented community- based treatment alternatives are more effective at reducing recidivism.
Today, after decades of de-incarceration, juvenile crime is at an all time low both nationally and in California. Contrary to popular belief, the streets and our communities are safer when more adolescents are present. This is great news for society, and signals an opportunity to end the use of institutional monolithic structures such as California’s youth prisons for good.