On February 1st and 2nd, representatives from dozens of youth justice organizations from across the state gathered for the annual meeting of the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice (CAYCJ), a coalition committed to ending the treatment of youth as adults.
In 2016, CAYCJ led the campaign to pass Prop 57, an initiative that abolished direct file and improved the process governing transfers of young people from juvenile to adult court.
Due in large part to the efforts of CAYCJ member organizations and the communities they serve, Prop 57 passed with 64 percent support from the California electorate. The new law ensures that no Californian under 18 can be placed in adult court without first appearing in a transfer hearing before a juvenile court judge.
Since the institution of direct file in 2000, CJCJ has researched the impacts of charging youth as adults. In the months leading up to Election Day, CJCJ co-authored two reports analyzing county-level variation in the use of direct file and its long-term, disproportionate impact on youth of color, and published one report demonstrating the relationship between a county’s rate of direct file and the political party affiliation of its district attorney (The Prosecution of Youth as Adults, The Prosecution of Youth as Adults in California: A 2015 Update, and Justice by Geography: Do Politics Influence the Prosecution of Youth as Adults?). CJCJ also developed a data-rich webpage to share crucial information with voters about the features of Prop 57 and the impacts of direct file on youth in California.
The 2017 CAYCJ convening was hosted by Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) in their Oakland offices and began with a reflection on the successes of Prop 57. Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch, an architect and champion of Prop 57, described the major components of the reform and contemplated the ways in which it has already impacted young people across the state.
Next, CJCJ partnered with the W. Haywood Burns Institute and the Pacific Juvenile Defender Center to present recent data on transfer hearings and share key findings from before and after the passage of Prop 57. Notably, in the years prior to Prop 57, some counties relied on direct file at the complete exclusion of transfer hearings, suggesting that counties must now undergo substantial shifts in practice. Furthermore, the data indicate that youth of color have been subjected to transfer proceedings at far higher rates than white youth, indicating a need for vigilant and continued attention to racial and ethnic disparities. The presentation also highlighted the variation across counties in their approaches to applying the protections of Prop 57 to youth who were recently direct filed.
After considering the lessons and successes of Prop 57, CAYCJ members turned to the future. Among other key priorities, the Alliance resolved to closely monitor the implementation of Prop 57 at the county level.
This work is already underway in counties throughout the state. In Santa Clara, for example, CAYCJ member organization Silicon Valley De-Bug is engaging systems-impacted youth, adults, and their loved ones in “participatory defense.” This strategy draws on the expertise of family and community members to support successful outcomes during court proceedings. Similarly, CJCJ’s Sentencing Services Program works with defense attorneys, families, and youth to prepare reports and expert testimony that advance fair outcomes. These programs offer vital supports to youth and their families during a time of transition in California’s juvenile justice system, while providing much-needed oversight of the implementation of Prop 57.
The 2017 CAYCJ convening ended with solemn reflections on the work that remains in service of California’s youth. CAYCJ’s member organizations have succeeded in coalescing around shared values and enacting sweeping statewide reform. Bolstered by these successes, the Alliance reaffirmed its commitment to fully ending California’s treatment of youth as adults.
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice