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New Report! Direct File Rates Arbitrarily Rising for Youth of Color

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, published today by the Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice (CJCJ), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) and W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI), is released 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. 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

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 eliminating direct file, Californians would reduce the high cost of unnecessary and harmful, long-term, youth incarceration, particularly for youth of color, while improving public safety and expanding opportunities for engagement in school, work, family and community.

Read the full report here >>

Contact: 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
National Center for Youth Law at (510) 835-8098 x 3055 or

Haywood Burns Institute at (415) 321-4100 x 108 or

Keywords: ballot initiative, crime trends, direct file, district attorney, justice by geography, Juvenile justice, juvenile justice system, prosecutors, Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, publication, racial disparity, report, trauma, youth, youth crime

Posted in Publications, Juvenile Justice

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