Skip to main content

As Prop 57 goes into effect, experts debate impact on youth, prison overcrowding

As Prop 57 goes into effect, experts debate impact on youth, prison overcrowding

Originally posted in Oakland North by Ryan Lindsay. 

UC Berkeley's Oakland North highlights CJCJ research and interviews Maureen Washburn and Erica Webster on the beneficial reforms of Prop 57. The article also spotlights two reports on the affects of Prop 57 on California's juvenile justice system co-authored by Maureen Washburn, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, and the National Center for Youth Law. 

From the article: 

Maureen Washburn, a policy analyst for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), a San Francisco based non-profit that works to decrease the need for incarceration, said that one of the immediate changes following the passage of Proposition 57 is eliminating “direct file” for youth offenders. Direct file is when a state gives prosecutors the power to file charges against juveniles within adult criminal courts instead of juvenile courts. Since 1976, California has allowed people as young as age 16 to be sent to adult courts and facilities. Since 2003, over 10,000 youth offenders were prosecuted in adult courts, and nearly 70 percent of those cases were a result of direct file, according to the CJCJ report “The Prosecution of Youth as Adults: A County Level Analysis of Prosecutorial Direct File Direct in California and Its Disparate Impact on Youth of Color.”

Washburn said that the juvenile justice system is generally oriented towards rehabilitation over punishment. “When a young person is processed in a juvenile court instead of an adult one, they are more likely to have their case and life circumstances considered by a judge who has more exposure to juvenile cases and who may be steeped in a rehabilitative mindset,” she said.

And, she said, while there’s no guarantee that a young offender would be confined for a shorter period of time if tried in juvenile court, there is a higher likelihood of facing “extremely long sentences” if they are tried in adult court. “Long adult sentences are not appropriate or just for the many youth we work with who have demonstrated tremendous capacity for change and rehabilitation,” said Washburn.

“When a young person is processed in a juvenile court instead of an adult one, they are more likely to have their case and life circumstances considered by a judge who has more exposure to juvenile cases and who may be steeped in a rehabilitative mindset."

Erica Webster, a CJCJ communications and policy analyst, says that some people predict that more young people moving through the juvenile courts will result in more of them being sent to a Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) facility, which is the highest level of incarceration that a person under age 18 can be put into once convicted in a juvenile court. DJJ was formerly known as the California Youth Authority (CYA).. . .

In the past, CYA facilities have made headlines for violence that rivaled and even exceeded that of adult prisons including chronic staff-on-inmate beatings, sexual violence against youth inmates,suicides, extended solitary confinement, forcibly medicating inmates without court approval, and denial of family visits, mental and physical health care and required educational programs.

“We see the passage of Proposition 57 as an opportunity for the state to reevaluate its reliance on DJJ and critically examine just how rehabilitative our juvenile justice system is for the growing number of youth who may remain there,” said Washburn. “What’s clear to us is that DJJ’s remote location and congregate model, which brings together hundreds of high-needs youth from across the state into several large institutions, makes it difficult for the system to maintain safety and deliver effective services.”

But, as Webster points out, there are other sentencing options that could be chosen by a juvenile court judge, including county camp and ranch programs like James Ranch in Santa Clara County, or other residential programs that offer specialized mental health and substance abuse treatment. These, she said, can “address the underlying cause of a youth’s behavior.”

"If you can just stay in juvenile court, there are many many, more options besides DJJ that actually address issues that youth deal with, that keep them local, keep them near their family, and their support network. So those should be utilized instead of DJJ."

“Our thinking would be if you can just stay in juvenile court, there are many many, more options besides DJJ that actually address issues that youth deal with that keep them local, keep them near their family, and their support network. So those should be utilized instead of DJJ,” added Webster.

Webster said that CJCJ is predicting that in the next few years, youth crime is likely to decrease, particularly violent felonies, or the kind that would likely cause a person to be sentenced to a DJJ facility. “If those are decreasing rapidly, then the pool of youth that are eligible for DJJ is going to go down,” said Washburn.


Related Links: 

Weakening Prop 57 Reinforces Mass Incarceration

Post-Prop 57, California Considers the Lasting Harm of Youth Incarceration

End Mass Incarceration. Stop Prosecuting Youth as Adults.


Keywords: California Youth Authority, CJCJ in the news, direct file, Division of Juvenile Justice, Erica Webster, fitness hearing, juvenile court, Juvenile justice, Maureen Washburn, Oakland North, Prop 57, prosecutor, sentencing, transfer hearing

Posted in CJCJ in the News, Proposition 57

Contribute to CJCJ

Make a difference to youth and adults trying to get their lives back on track.


California Stentencing Institute screenshot

California Sentencing
Institute (CASI)

Explore how California’s 58 counties send their residents to correctional institutions with interactive maps, charts, and downloadable data.

Connect with us

      YouTube

Contribute to CJCJ

Make a difference to youth and adults trying to get their lives back on track.

Join our mailing list

Get regular updates and news delivered to your inbox. We won’t share your information with anyone else.