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Fact Sheet: California Youth Face Heightened Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Division of Juvenile Justice

SAN FRANCISCO – August 27, 2020 – A new fact sheet by the W. Haywood Burns Institute, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice examines the stark racial and ethnic disparities among youth in California’s state youth correctional system, the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

California Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2020 – 21 state budget proposal to close DJJ provides a unique opportunity to improve local approaches to youth justice in alignment with youth development, health, and racial justice. The State Legislature introduced Senate Bill (SB) 823, which proposes alternative trailer bill language outlining juvenile justice realignment. The bill provides the oversight and infrastructure necessary to close DJJ the right way.

The fact sheet analyzes 2019 data collected by the California Department of Justice (DOJ), which finds that youth of color experience the greatest harms of the justice system. State policies guiding juvenile justice realignment must address the significant racial and ethnic disparities among youth committed to DJJ, transferred to adult court, and at every decision-making point.

The fact sheet finds:

  • DJJ closure will have the greatest impact on youth of color. Black and Latino youth are 31 times and 5 times more likely to be committed to DJJ than their white peers, respectively.
  • Black and brown youth make up the majority of youth exposed to the dangers of DJJ. As of June 2020, 782 youth in DJJ’s prison-like facilities. Latino youth accounted for 59 percent and Black youth accounted for 29 percent of the DJJ population, while only 7.7 percent were white youth.
  • Recent reforms have contributed to steep declines in adult court prosecution, and realignment policies must maintain this trend. Local alternatives to DJJ must ensure there is not an increase in youth prosecuted as adults. SB 823 aligns with the research-based principle that youth behavior is most effectively addressed by providing education and treatment.
As California’s state leaders move forward in closing DJJ, community stakeholders are eager to support youth locally and put an end to the system that has consistently failed youth of color. State leaders must enact policies in line with research and a long-term vision for youth and communities.

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