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SAN FRANCISCO – November 29, 2017 – A year ago this month, Californians voted overwhelmingly in support of Proposition 57, a ballot initiative that abolished the practice of direct file,” wherein prosecutors could file charges against youth as young as 14 years old directly in adult criminal court. Now, all youth under the age of 18 must first receive a judicial transfer hearing in juvenile court to determine whether they can be prosecuted as an adult. Authors of a new report revealing racial and ethnic disparities associated with direct file say the data are a reminder of the need to remain vigilant to prevent these disparities from being reproduced under the state’s new process for transferring youth to adult criminal court. 

The new report released today by the W. Haywood Burns Institute (BI), the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), and the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) presents multi-year trends in direct file and judicial transfer hearings and offers recommendations for curbing historic racial, ethnic, and geographic disparities in the prosecution of youth as adults. The report finds:

Reliance on transfer hearings and direct file varies substantially across California’s 58 counties:From 2010 to 2016, nine California counties had no reported cases of direct file or transfer to adult criminal court, while Kings, Yuba, San Joaquin, Sutter, and Madera counties reported rates that were more than three times the state average.

Youth of color are far more likely than White youth to be prosecuted in adult court:For every White youth transferred to adult criminal court or direct filed between 2010 and 2016, 3.9 Latino youth and 12.3 Black youth were subject to adult court prosecution. With the repeal of direct file, disparities in the prosecution of youth as adults are likely to persist. From 2006 to 2016, 47 percent of White youth were transferred to adult court through a transfer hearing compared to 73 percent of Black youth and 75 percent of Latino youth. Racial and ethnic disparities in the prosecution of youth as adults vary considerably across counties:In nearly all counties that prosecuted youth as adults between 2010 and 2016, Black and Latino youth were direct filed or transferred to adult court at higher rates, per capita, than White youth, but the size of this disparity gap differs across counties. For example, Black youth in Alameda County were 65 times more likely, per capita, to be direct filed or transferred to adult court than White youth.

The passage of Proposition 57 brought an end to the inherently unjust practice of direct file, but the option to prosecute youth as adults remains. To combat continued disparities in the use of transfer hearings, the authors recommend training for judges, defenders, probation officers, and prosecutors; the development of comprehensive social histories that detail each youth’s life circumstances; improvements in county data collection; and expanded opportunities for family and community involvement. Though training and monitoring are necessary to ensure that transfer hearings are implemented lawfully, California must end the prosecution of youth as adults to uphold community safety and extend rehabilitative opportunities to all justice-involved youth.

Read the full report »

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