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San Francisco Strengthens Legal Protections for Youth

CJCJ and fellow advocates together after the victory of Supervisor Ronen's

CJCJ and fellow advocates together after the victory of Supervisor Ronen's "Jeff Adachi Youth Rights" orginance.

San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen recently introduced a city ordinance to ensure that all youth are protected during police interrogations. In the new policy, youth up to age 17 must consult with legal counsel before waiving their Miranda rights, and a responsible adult must be present during police questioning. Last month, after a passionate group of community members and advocates addressed the public safety committee at a public hearing, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the “Jeff Adachi Youth Rights” ordinance, named in honor of the late San Francisco Public Defender.

At the committee hearing, community members and service providers were joined by San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Patti Lee and the San Francisco Youth Commission. The community worked together, spending countless hours raising public awareness and collaborating in support of this legislation. CJCJ attended the hearing in full support of the proposed ordinance with recognition that it would support youth who come into contact with the justice system by creating, “trust, accountability, and due process for all,” as CJCJ Policy Analyst, Maureen Washburn stated in a letter of support.

The controversy surrounding police treatment of youth in custody was sparked during an incident involving a gun at San Francisco’s Balboa High School. Three youth were accused of bringing and firing a gun in the classroom. They were arrested and left traumatized by the process, while only one youth was charged. The trauma that these youth experienced left community members and leaders, including Supervisor Ronen, feeling that something needed to change. According to community members at the public hearing, this ordinance is a positive change in the face of a traumatizing situation. “I’m trying to teach my son to make good out of the bad, this is something great,” one community member and father shared.

In 2018, Senate Bill 395 was enacted mandating that youth ages 15 and under consult a lawyer before interrogation by police or waiving their Miranda rights. This was an important step in the fight for juvenile justice and should be extended to 16- and 17-year-olds, who cannot fully comprehend their Miranda rights and are left vulnerable by the interrogation process. A youth’s inability to understand what police are telling them, along with the high stakes crisis they are experiencing, can have dire consequences. According to a study on false confessions cited by the Supreme Court in Corley v. U.S., 32 percent of false confessions are made by youth under the age of 18.

This year, under the leadership of Supervisor Ronen, San Francisco’s “Jeff Adachi Youth Rights” ordinance will extend this law to San Francisco youth ages 16 and 17. According to a representative from Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, this is an important step in the reform process: “This is really a step forward in really protecting young people, letting them know there are people in positions of power who care about them and are going to look out for their best interest… I really hope this can be a model nationally of how young people are treated, respected and really put first.”

The "Jeff Adachi Youth Rights" ordinance is now the strongest law in the country for youth in police custody, setting a precedent for counties across California and the U.S. and emphasizing the importance of local reform in the fight for youth justice.

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