On September 30, 2020 Governor Gavin Newsom signed two measures that will have lifechanging consequences for young people in the youth justice system.
First, SB 823, sets into motion the closure of California’s State Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and creates a system in which youth will be served in the counties. This will usher in a new era in youth justice in California. It recognizes that young people are best served closer to their home communities and families. It provides generous funding to counties to serve the realigned population and a framework for broader community input into how the money is spent.
SB 823 also provides for a new state level youth justice agency – the Office of Youth and Community Restoration (OYCR) – something we have needed for a long time. The location of the new agency in Health and Human Services (HHS) agency, free of adult correctional constraints, is designed to provide leadership and oversight over the new county-based systems. It will assure greater consideration of youth development and health-based approaches in youth justice interventions, and easier access to allied funding streams for services. The legislation also provides for the development of a plan to improve our state data system, which will facilitate system improvement and implementation of evidence-based interventions.
The legislation also protects against transfer of youth to the adult system by delaying the close of DJJ intake in transfer cases; raising the age of jurisdiction and the maximum age for local custody; setting a date to develop a high level disposition track for youth with serious offenses; and providing money to the counties to upgrade their facilities or develop new ones to meet the needs of the DJJ population.
PJDC worked closely with legislative staff and advocacy organizations across the state to help shape the bill, and we are gratified with the results. We look forward to developing follow up provisions to further guard against transfer to the adult system, encourage the development of alternatives to correctional type facilities in the counties, address racial disparities, and provide greater involvement of communities and community-based programs for youth. While the transition to a county-based system will require ongoing commitment and adherence to the underlying value of creating a health-based approach to youth justice, SB 823 bill provides the framework for that to happen.
Second, Governor Newsom signed SB 203, requiring that youth under the age of 18 be advised by an attorney before they decide whether to waive their rights to allow interrogation by the police. PJDC has been concerned for many years that youth often give up their rights without understanding them, or the potential consequences of talking to police. We helped to enact SB 395 several years ago, which required the advice of an attorney for youth under the age of 16. Since that time, it has become increasingly clear that all youth need similar protections to protect against involuntary confessions. In a time when we are regularly besieged with news of police misconduct against youth of color, this is a timely measure. PJDC is proud to have served as a co-sponsor of this measure, and to have worked with advocacy organizations across the state to help it through the legislative process. We are grateful to Senator Steven Bradford for carrying the measure, and to Governor Newsom for signing it.