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New Report: The Prosecution of Youth as Adults in California

A new report presents 2015 trends in California’s use of “direct file,” wherein prosecutors are granted sole discretion to file charges against youth as young as 14 years old directly in adult criminal court. The report finds stark differences by county in the use of direct file and documents its continued disproportionate impact on youth of color. The report, published today by the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI), the Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice (CJCJ), and the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) is released in advance of Election Day when California voters will consider the repeal of direct file through the passage of Proposition 57. The report finds:

Rates of direct file increased in 2015 despite falling rates of arrest for serious felony offenses: Despite a 17 percent drop in serious felony arrests of youth from 2014 to 2015, counties reported a per capita increase in the use of direct file. These opposing trends suggest that there is no clear relationship between serious youth crime and the use of direct file.

The statewide rate of direct file increased from 2014 to 2015 despite a decline in serious felony arrests

County level disparities lead to an inequitable system of “justice-by-geography”: In 2015, just six counties – Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Joaquin, and Tulare – comprised more than 50 percent of the state’s 492 direct file cases, while 20 counties did not direct file any youth.

Racial and ethnic disparities persist: Per capita, Latino youth were 3.4 times more likely to be direct filed than White youth in 2015, and Black youth were direct filed at 10.8 times the rate of White youth. Six counties directly filed charges against Black youth, but no White youth, while 11 counties direct filed Latino youth and no White youth.  Even when adjusting for the disproportionate rates at which youth of color are arrested for serious felonies, Black and Latino youth are still more likely to be direct filed than their White counterparts.

Youth who are subjected to the adult justice system experience psycho-emotional trauma stemming from the high-stakes criminal prosecution, and are more likely to recidivate. By eliminating direct file through Proposition 57, Californians have the opportunity to change this. According to the authors, repealing direct file would reduce unnecessary, harmful, and costly 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 "The Prosecution of Youth as Adults in California: A 2015 Update" >>

Contact: For more information about this topic or to schedule an interview with the authors, please contact:

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

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

Keywords: ballot initiative, crime trends, direct file, fitness hearing, justice by geography, juvenile court, juvenile crime, juvenile justice reform, juvenile justice system, Prop 57, prosecutors, Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act, publication, racial disparity, report, trauma, youth, youth of color

Posted in Publications, Juvenile Justice

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