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Juvenile Corrections Reform in California

This is an introduction to Farrell v. Cate; a lawsuit launched by the Prison Law Office that changed the face of juvenile justice in California and grew out of the advocacy efforts of many individuals and organizations, including, Commonweal, Youth Law Center, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Ella Baker Center, and CJCJ.

In 2003, the Prison Law Office brought forth a sweeping indictment of the policies and practices of the California Youth Authority (now known as DJF, or the Division of Juvenile Facilities), citing widespread neglect and abuse of youth in state custody. The following film details the history of the lawsuit and the resulting consent decree.

Since the opening of its first state-run youth correctional facility in 1891, California’s youth correction institutions have been the subject of frequent and harsh criticism. These criticisms increased during the early 2000’s as conditions in the state’s youth correctional facilities came under intense scrutiny.

This timeline highlights the primary events in California juvenile justice reform from 1999 to 2013. For Farrell litigation court documents, please visit the Prison Law Office website.

A court-appointed Special Master monitors DJF’s compliance with the consent decree and through the issuance of periodic progress reports. Read summaries of the Special Master Reports.

Senate Bill 81

Senate Bill 81 (SB 81), also known the Juvenile Justice Realignment” bill, signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2007 is among the most important pieces of juvenile justice reform legislation in recent decades. The legislation ushered in a new era of juvenile justice policy by limiting the types of offenders who could be committed to state youth correctional institutions and by providing funding to county probation systems to improve their capacity to handle higher end offenders. The bill resulted in a further decline in institutional commitments and spurred the development of innovative programs at the county level.

State Policy Organizations

Little Hoover Commission

The Little Hoover Commission (LHC) is an independent agency that examines issues of efficiency in state government operations. The Commission consists of a bipartisan board made up of appointed officials that select topics under review along with providing recommendations. After the recommendations are enacted, the Commission oversees the implementation.

The agency also consists of a subcommittee that supervises the creation of public hearings to inform the appointed officials and the public regarding a specified topic. The subcommittee further expands the research and recommendations, and is responsible for drafting the results to the Commission. The LHC recommended closure of DJF and full juvenile justice realignment in July 2008, following a public hearing on November 152007.

Legislative Analyst’s Office

The Legislative Analysts Office (LAO) is a bipartisan organization that presents policy and fiscal advice to the state legislature. The LAO monitors the executive branch to ensure they are complying with legislative policies in a fiscally efficient manner. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee supervises the LAO, which consists of analytical and support staff that cover 10 areas including criminal justice, local government, and state administration. The main role of the LAO is to review and analyze the state budget and the implementation of state policy. In 2009, the LAO recommended closure of DJF and full juvenile justice realignment.

View CJCJ materials on this topic»