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This Election Day, Californians will have the opportunity to cast a vote in support of Prop 57, a measure that would expand opportunities for rehabilitation by making commonsense reforms to the state’s juvenile and criminal justice systems. CJCJ supports Prop 57 in its entirety because it advances the values of rehabilitation and supportive reentry, and aligns with the agency’s mission to reduce society’s reliance on incarceration as a solution to social problems.

Prop 57 began as a partnership between youth justice advocates and Governor Brown, who believes Proposition 57 gives people hope.” If passed, Prop 57 will expand parole eligibility and revise credit earning across California’s 34 state prisons, encouraging participation in education and rehabilitative programming and supporting successful reentry. The initiative will also repeal parts of Prop 21 (2000), namely the ability of prosecutors to file charges against youth under 18 years old in adult criminal court through a process known as direct file.”

Notably, Prop 57 would bring an end to the fundamentally unjust practice of direct file. Direct file bars hundreds of young people each year from the juvenile justice system, relegating them instead to more punitive adult criminal courts. From there, youth as young as 14 years old can be subjected to a lengthy prison sentence and incur a lifelong felony conviction. Despite the high stakes, prosecutors make direct file decisions within 48 hours, without the statutory parameters that guide juvenile court judges when making these determinations.

Given the great discretion afforded prosecutors through Prop 21, direct file is being used in vastly different ways across California’s 58 counties. Since June, CJCJ has authored and co-authored three publications examining aspects of direct file by county (The Prosecution of Youth as Adults, Justice by Geography: Do Politics Influence the Prosecution of Youth as Adults?, and The Prosecution of Youth as Adults in California: A 2015 Update).

The reports suggest that a youth’s likelihood of being direct filed in adult criminal court varies depending on his or her location, race, and ethnicity. For example, a young person arrested for a serious felony offense is three times more likely to be direct filed in Napa County than in nearby Marin County. In counties across the state, youth of color are far more likely to be direct filed than their white counterparts. In 2015, African American and Latino youth arrested for serious felony offenses were direct filed at approximately double the rate of white youth. Furthermore, the use of direct file by county appears to be informed by the political affiliation of the local prosecutor. CJCJ finds that Republican DAs direct filed African American youth at five times the rate of white youth, and overall, they direct filed youth at 2.4 times the rate of Democratic DAs, even when accounting for county differences in violent felony arrests.

On November 8th, California voters will have the opportunity to address the harms caused by Prop 21 and commit to fairer outcomes for young people. Through both its youth and adult provisions, Prop 57 offers hope and opportunity for those impacted by the justice system. A yes” on Prop 57 will deliver long overdue reforms.

Related Links:

California legislature hears pros and cons of statewide sentencing reform

New Report: The Prosecution of Youth as Adults in California

Justice by Geography: Do Politics Influence the Prosecution of Youth as Adults?